By NOAM COHEN
APRIL 19, 2014
Adrianne Wadewitz, a scholar of 18th-century British literature who became one of the most prolific and influential editors of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, died on April 8 in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 37.
The cause was head injuries sustained in a fall on March 29 while Ms. Wadewitz (pronounced WAH-de-wits) was rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, said Peter B. James, Ms. Wadewitz’s partner.
She had taken up rock climbing only in the last couple of years, and on her personal blog she described the thrill of creating “a new narrative” about herself beyond that of a bookish, piano-playing Wikipedia contributor.
The bulk of Ms. Wadewitz’s work at Wikipedia concerned biographies of women, particularly writers and thinkers from the era that she studied to earn her Ph.D. An early contribution, or “edit,” was in 2006, when she “punched up the intro” to the article about Jane Austen, to note Austen’s “masterful use of both indirect speech and irony.”
More than 49,000 edits later, Ms. Wadewitz had created a whole library of articles about figures like the early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, the children’s book writer Mary Martha Sherwood and the “woman of letters” Anna Laetitia Barbauld. Each of these biographical articles was labeled a “featured article” — the highest praise her fellow editors could give — appearing on the site’s home page.
The reward for contributors like Ms. Wadewitz, Mr. James said, is that their work can reach a large audience. “She had a succinct way of saying it,” he recalled. “As an academic you could write a paper on a particular topic, and it might be read by dozens of people, whereas if you write a prominent Wikipedia article it might be read by millions of people.”