Sheila Michaels has died at 78 but her legacy as the feminist who popularized the use of ‘Ms.' lives on.
Michaels had been battling acute leukemia but eventually lost her fight to the illness on June 22 in Manhatten, noted The New York Times.
The American feminist is revered for her campaign to popularise the “Ms” title throughout the 60s.
While the term itself is believed to have been coined in the 1760s as an abbreviation for the word “mistress,” it was Michaels who brought it to mainstream as a symbol for women not defined by any relationship to men.
Michaels dedicated a decade to the campaign and finally experienced success when “Ms.” was adopted by feminist Ms Magazine.
“Ms. didn’t really take off until the politically-motivated language reforms of second-wave feminism and the cultural impact of Ms. Magazine in the 1970s,” says the Ms Magazine website.
“I created the term in 1961, from what I thought was a typo on my roommate Mary Hamilton’s subscription to News and Letters,” Michaels said in an article, “Forty Years of Defying the Odds” that appeared on Solidarity, a socialist, feminist and anti-racial organization.
“No one wanted to hear about 'Ms,' and to this day Susan Brownmiller tells me she still thinks it’s silly. It finally became current when a friend of Gloria Steinem heard me, filling a lull during a WBAI interview with 'The Feminists.' When I went to get a copy of the interview, the guys who had, of course, recorded over women’s liberation crap, hooted me out of the station. It would still be a dead item if Steinem’s friend hadn’t suggested it as the name of the experimental feminist magazine supplement.”
An obituary published in the St. Louis Dispatch described: “A woman of strong principles, Ms. Michaels maintained her singular identity as a feminist, humanitarian, biblical scholar, and civil rights advocate throughout her life.”
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