Betty Pat Gatliff: A Woman Pushed To Background In Her Own Obituary

Betty Pat Gatliff

Noted forensic sculptor Betty Pat Gatliff passed away recently at the age of 89. Gatliff’s contribution to the field of forensic facial reconstruction is the stuff of legends. During her tenure as a forensic artist, she helped identify numerous people who had been murdered or gone missing. In case of the infamous John Wayne Gacy murders, she helped establish the identity of nine victims (out of 33), whose remains were discovered in the crawl-space under the serial killer’s home. She also famously reconstructed the face of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, which was documented by National Geographic World. However, a famous US news agency used a picture of Gatliff where she can be seen in the background, with a man in focus instead of her, in her obituary. Yes, you read that right.


  • Noted forensic sculptor Betty Pat Gatliff passed away recently at the age of 89.
  • Betty helped identify the remains of many murder victims using forensic facial reconstruction technique.
  • In her obituary, a popular US publication used an image where she was in the background.
  • If women want to be a part of history, then they need to start chronicling it themselves.

Imagine being a pioneer in a crucial investigative field such as forensics, helping many families get closure by reconstructing the faces of unidentifiable murder victims and then being pushed into the background in an image for your own obituary.

This picture of Gatliff actually makes one wonder, how many women have been pushed into the background by the society which still adheres to the patriarchal model? How many women scientists, researchers, artists, writers had to let men take the spotlight in their joint efforts, because they were deemed unworthy of attention, or not taken as seriously as their male counterparts? How many achievements have been erased, overshadowed, taken lightly because they were heralded by women? How many women remain unsung, despite doing incredible things for society and their country?

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When you think of documenting history and information, what is the first name that comes to your mind? For me it is Wikipedia, my go-to website for instant information on historical figures. However, a study found that women constituted for less than 30 percent of biographical coverage on the website. The portal is more likely to be missing articles on women than on men, the study added. That’s not it though, gender discrimination follows women to their graves and beyond. In 2018. The New York Times revealed in an article that most of the obituaries published in the paper since 1851 have been that of white men.

This oversight, deliberate or otherwise is a wake-up call for women today. If you want to be a part of  history, then start chronicling it yourself.

Just to be clear, no one is advocating that women must overshadow men in documenting their achievements or be given preferential treatment. This is a limitless space, and men and women can easily share it. Bringing women’s feats to the forefront doesn’t translate into turning a blind eye to men’s achievements.

Having said that, women’s history is yet to reach the vastness of documentation that men’s history has achieved. We lack an equal footing not just in the documentation but in cultural and social narratives as well. For instance, there are many female freedom fighters and reformers whose work has been documented by historians. But how many names do you have on the tip of your tongue? Now, compare that to the number of male freedom fighters you know.

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This oversight, deliberate or otherwise is a wake-up call for women today. If you want to be a part of history, then start chronicling it yourself. Talk more about your own work, and that of women around you. Google women of history and narrate their stories to your children. Ask newspapers, magazines and websites for more content on women pioneers across various fields. The more we raise the demand, the more we will have supply. No woman should be shoved into the background in a narrative about her. And the responsibility to ensure that this doesn’t happen lies with us who have access to technology and support and thus, a chance to literally rewrite history.

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.