Kate Swift

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Kate Swift (December 9, 1923 – May 7, 2011 CE) was an American feminist writer and editor who co-wrote (with Casey Miller, her business partner and platonic domestic partner) influential books and articles about sexism in the English language.

Their work, in the words of Swift "examined the male-dominated evolution of English usage and the ways it defined women negatively as secondary, irrelevant, or invisible."[1]

She was born Barbara Peabody Swift on December 9, 1923 in Yonkers, New York.[1] In 1944, she graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in Journalism. She worked as a copy runner in the NBC newsroom, and later joined the Women’s Army Corps as a writer and editor for the Army’s information and education department.[1] She also worked as an editorial assistant at Time, a news writer for the Girl Scouts of the USA's public relations department, and a writer for the Port of New Orleans.[1] Then in 1954 she joined the public-affairs staff of the Museum of Natural History in New York as a science writer; she was the press liaison for the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.[1] In 1965, she became the director of the news bureau of Yale School of Medicine.[1]

In 1970, she and Casey Miller formed a professional editing partnership, and they were soon hired to copy-edit a sex education manual for junior high school students.[2] Although the author intended to promote mutual respect between women and men in his manual, Swift and Casey Miller came to realize that sexist language usage was preventing this point from getting made.[3] Swift said, "We suddenly realized what was keeping his message – his good message – from getting across, and it hit us like a bombshell. It was the pronouns! They were overwhelmingly masculine gendered. We turned in the manuscript with our suggestions such as putting singular sexist pronouns into plural gender-free ones, avoiding pronouns wherever possible, and changing word order so that girls or women sometimes preceded rather than always followed boys or men. The publisher accepted some suggestions and not others as always happens. But we had been revolutionized."[3]

Soon after, Swift and Miller wrote an article about sexist pronoun usage called "Desexing the Language"; it was published in the first stand-alone issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972.[3] They also wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine on feminists' concerns with language, titled "One Small Step for Genkind"; "genkind" was their suggested gender-neutral alternative to "mankind".[2] Their editor for that article, Glenn Collins, suggested they claim to be writing a book on the subject in their description of themselves for the article, which they did.[3] Many inquiries about the supposed book followed, and Miller and Swift were able to hire Ginger Barber as their literary agent.[3] Loretta Barrett at Anchor Books, Doubleday, became their editor, and it was she who persuaded them to include the book's epilogue.[3] The book, titled "Words and Women: A New Language in New Times", was published in 1976 and received a favorable review in the New York Times Book Review; an updated version of the book was published in 1991.[2][3]

Some of Swift and Miller's suggestions in that book have become mainstream practice, such as avoiding "fireman" and "stewardess" in favor of "firefighter" and "flight attendant"; however, other suggestions such as "genkind" as a replacement for "mankind," and "tey," "ter" and "tem" as sex-neutral substitutes for "he/she," "his/her" and "him/her," have not been successful.[2]

In 1981, Swift and Miller's how-to book for non-sexist language, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing, was published by The Women's Press.[4] Their new editor, Carol Cohen at T.Y. Crowell, had encouraged them to write a handbook modeled on "The Elements of Style".[3]

Swift died of stomach cancer on May 7, 2011 in Middletown, Connecticut; Casey Miller died in 1997.[5]