Ms. - Historical Development and Revival of The Term

Historical Development and Revival of The Term

"Ms." (or at least such a pronunciation) along with "Miss" and "Mrs.", began to be used as early as the 17th century as titles derived from the then formal "Mistress", which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status. "Ms." in whatever form, however, fell into disuse in favor of the other two titles and was not revived until the 20th century.

The earliest known proposal for the modern revival of "Ms." as a title appeared in The Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts on November 10, 1901:

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts... Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation "Ms" is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as "Mizz," which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis' does duty for Miss and Mrs alike.

The term was again suggested as a convenience to writers of business letters by such publications as the Bulletin of the American Business Writing Association (1951) and The Simplified Letter, issued by the National Office Management Association (1952).

In 1961, Sheila Michaels attempted to put the term into use when she saw what she thought was a typographical error on the address label of a copy of News & Letters sent to her roommate. Michaels "was looking for a title for a woman who did not 'belong' to a man." She knew the separation of the now common terms Miss and Mrs. had derived from "Mistress", but one could not suggest that women use the original title with its now louche connotations. Her efforts to promote use of a new honorific were at first ignored. Around 1971, in a lull during a WBAI-radio interview with The Feminists group, Michaels suggested the use of Ms. A friend of Gloria Steinem heard the interview and suggested it as a title for her new magazine. Ms. magazine's popularity finally allowed the term to enjoy widespread usage. In February 1972, the US Government Printing Office approved using "Ms." in official government documents.

Even several public opponents of "non-sexist language", such as William Safire, were finally convinced that Ms. had earned a place in English by the case of US Congresswoman Geraldine A. Ferraro. Ferraro, a United States vice-presidential candidate in 1984, was a married woman who used her birth surname professionally rather than her husband's ("Zaccaro"). Safire pointed out that it would be equally incorrect to call her "Miss Ferraro" (as she was married), or "Mrs. Ferraro" (as her husband was not "Mr. Ferraro")—and that calling her "Mrs. Zaccaro" would confuse the reader.

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