Today in history two fascinating women died. Susan B. Anthony, who should need no introduction to American readers for her tireless fight for women’s suffrage, died in 1906 at the age of 86. She never saw women win the right to vote, which would be an excellent reason to go to the polls if you don’t already. It wasn’t that long ago when women were prevented from participating in our democracy.
The other notable woman who died today was Kitty Genovese, who is undoubtedly more famous in death than she ever was in life. You might not recognize her name, but accounts of her death, when she was supposedly raped and murdered in full view of eyewitnesses who did nothing to help, have achieved mythic status. I know in a college psychology class, I read about the 38 New Yorkers who could see and hear Kitty shouting for help, but didn’t intervene or call police to come to her rescue.
It turns out most of that wasn’t true. Yes, 28-year-old Kitty was raped and murdered on March 13, 1964. However, most of her neighbors didn’t realize anything was wrong. Those who witnessed anything saw only part of the attack and assumed it was a domestic dispute, which doesn’t excuse their apathy. It wasn’t reported at the time — hardly anything accurate was — but Kitty was living with her lover Mary Ann Zielonko, who talks here about their relationship. Her neighbors could have done more to help, but so could the police, who were slow in responding to calls from the area. And it was a neighbor who cradled Kitty and stayed with her until an ambulance arrived.
The man who murdered Kitty, Winston Mosley, was discovered to have raped and murdered other women, and he has been in prison for decades. He picked Kitty at random, and nothing that happened that night was her fault. If we learn anything from her death, it’s that too often women are the victims of senseless violence, and we should never lose our outrage that people could see what was going on and didn’t lift a finger to help. Even though it wasn’t true, that outrage will help prevent it from ever becoming so.