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07 Jul 2017

Sheila Michaels, feminist who popularized 'Ms', dies

Feminist activist Sheila Michaels dies

Sheila Michaels, the American feminist who brought the honorific 'Ms' into mainstream use, died aged 78.

The term wasn't invented by her; it was "arcane knowledge", but she popularized it.

Unlike the conventional "Mrs" or "Miss", it didn't convey a woman's marital status.

Ms Michaels chanced upon it as she was "looking for a title for a woman who didn't 'belong' to a man".

In context

Feminist activist Sheila Michaels dies

Some facts about Ms Michaels

Ms Michaels was born in St Louis, Missouri, and spent a part of her childhood in New York City. Throughout the course of her life, she remained a feminist activist and a biblical scholar. Professionally, she was an editor, a ghostwriter, and even drove a taxi.

The chance sighting on a magazine address


The chance sighting on a magazine address

The feminist Ms Michaels, the child of unmarried parents, felt there was "no place" for her.

"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."

'Ms' caught her attention when she saw it on an address on a magazine being home-delivered; she first thought it was a typo.

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From obscurity to The New York Times

'Ms' has been traced back to 1901 but had become obscure. Years after that chance sighting on the magazine, Ms Michaels casually brought it up on a radio show, and people picked it up.

After much prompting from her, the editors of 'Ms' accepted the term as the title of their magazine in 1972.

After 12 years, The New York Times adopted the honorific.

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