• Sheila Michaels, feminist icon and pioneer of the term 'Ms.', has passed away in Manhattan, age 78. (Wikipedia / Youtube (screengrab: jkFrOh4HAEg).)
There has been an outpouring of social media tributes for Sheila Michaels, the feminist pioneer who ushered 'Ms.' into common vernacular and gave women the option to not be defined by their marital status.
By
Chloe Sargeant

10 Jul 2017 - 11:52 AM  UPDATED 10 Jul 2017 - 12:00 PM

Influential US feminist Sheila Michaels has passed away in New York City at age 78, it has been confirmed

Michaels is widely credited as the person as the driving force behind the popularisation of the honorific 'Ms.', as an alternative to 'Mrs' or 'Miss'. 

While she did not invent the term, she did turn it into a feminist symbol in the modern lexicon, a mark that women need not be defined or branded by their marital status.

“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.”

Michaels told The Guardian in 2007 that she had been looking for a title for a woman that did not "belong" to a man. 

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

Michaels reportedly began using the honorific after seeing it on an address label of a Marxist magazine which had been posted to one of her housemates - she initially thought it was a typo. 

"I was stunned. Never having seen the term before, it seemed to provide me with the perfect solution to a problem that had bothered me for years," she told the Japan Times in 2000. 

Michaels said her campaign for women to have the option of "Ms." was extremely unsuccessful in feminist circles when she first began the movement in 1961. It was met with complete indifference, until it finally caught on after a radio interview in the late 1960s.

It was picked up by feminist icon Gloria Steinem from that same interview, as she had been looking for a name for the new feminist magazine she was founding. So, in 1971, Ms. Magazine was born. 

As well as being an early feminist pioneer, Michaels was also a woman of various professions throughout her life: she worked as a civil rights activist, a member of the Congress of Racial Equality, an editor, a restaurateur, and a taxi driver. 

Michaels reportedly passed away on 22 June, but her family only posted the obituary for her passing late last week. They published the obituary in a newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri - Michaels' birthplace. 

Social media users have been posting tributes to Michaels:

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