Sheila Babs Michaels, an iconic figure in feminist and social justice causes who has been credited with popularizing the courtesy title “Ms.,” died.
Michaels died on June 22 in New York. She was 78 and had been suffering from leukemia.
In a 2009 New York Times article, Ben Zimmer wrote that in 1961, Michaels, then 22 and living in New York, saw “Ms.” on a piece of mail her roommate received. “In fact, she initially took it as a typo, albeit a felicitous one,” Zimmer wrote. “Fiercely independent, Michaels abhorred having her identity defined by marriage. Struck by Ms., she became a one-woman lobbying force for the title as a feminist alternative to ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs.’”
“[I] was looking for a title for a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man,’” Michaels is quoted as saying in a 2007 story in The Guardian.
By 1970, Gloria Steinem endorsed the term and it steadily grew in public usage. In 1971 “Ms.” was used as the title of the feminist magazine started by Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.
The Jewish feminist icon was born in St. Louis in 1939 and spent her formative years there and in the Bronx.