Woman who brought the title ‘Ms’ into common use has died aged 78

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Jasmine Andersson
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The feminist who brought the honorific ‘Ms’ into common use has died at the age of 78.

Sheila Michaels, an American citizen who worked as a ghostwriter, editor, and even ran a Japanese restaurant brought the title into common use after she saw it typed on a housemate’s Marxist magazine in the 60s.

Prior to her invention, women were generally known as either Miss or Mrs - so unlike men there wasn't an option if they didn't want to reveal their marital status - and their marital status therefore became synonymous with their identity

“Apparently, it was in use in stenographic books for a while,” Ms. Michaels said in an interview with New York Times in 2016. “I had never seen it before: It was kind of arcane knowledge.”

A few years later she brought up the title during a casual lapse in conversation on a radio broadcast – and as they say, the rest is history.

It is thanks to Michaels’ activism that women use the title today – as well as the pioneering Ms. Magazine that brought feminist discourse into the mainstream domain.

“’Ms’ is how you address a woman as a whole person. In a culture where women were identified on the basis of their marital status... it was a way to define ourselves as individuals, not subordinates or partners,” said the magazine last month when discussing the title.

Michaels decided that it was the perfect title for her identity as she “was looking for a title for a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man.

“There was no place for me,” she said to The Guardian.

“No one wanted to claim me, and I didn’t want to be owned. I didn’t belong to my father, and I didn’t want to belong to a husband — someone who could tell me what to do. I had not seen very many marriages I’d want to emulate.”

The title was first brought into use back in 1901, but had fallen into obscurity.

“Ms Michaels leaves a legacy both minute and momentous: two consonants and a small dot - three characters that forever changed English discourse,” the New York Times wrote.

So here’s to Sheila Michaels, the woman who gave us the chance to decide how we officialise ourselves.

Photos: Rex Features


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Jasmine Andersson

When she isn't talking about her emotional attachment to meal deals or serenading unfortunate individuals with David Bowie power solos in karaoke booths, Jasmine writes about gender, politics and culture as a freelance journalist. She wastes her days tweeting @the__chez