American feminist Sheila Michaels passed away at the age of 78, on June 22nd. She is credited for making the title ‘Ms’ popular. The term was invented in the early 1900s, but nobody used it. When Michaels saw it in an address, she thought it was a typo. But she decided it was much better suited for women who until then were known only as Mrs or Miss, if unmarried.

This was 1961. Michaels’ parents hadn’t been married and she herself wasn’t.

She says “she was looking for a title for a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man. There was no place for me. 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”.

Apparently, the whole idea came to her in a few hours. 

A friend of Gloria Steinem’s heard Michaels talk about the term in a radio broadcast 10 years later. At the time, Steinem and a group of editors were in the process of setting up a magazine, which they then titled ‘Ms Magazine’. This was 1972.

The New York Times adopted the term in 1984. “The Times now believes that “Ms.” has become a part of the language and is changing its policy,” it wrote. 

Michaels was an editor, ghostwriter, and ran a Japanese restaurant. At one point, she was even a New York City ghostwriter.

‘Ms’ is a word that is so commonplace, that we take it for granted. It’s interesting to find that a simple title for women also had to be fought for.

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