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The Woman Who Popularized ‘Ms.’ Dies at 78

Sheila Michaels in circa 1960s. Garbis Photo Studio

Sheila Michaels, who ushered the title “Ms.” into the world’s vocabulary, has died at the age of 78.

Born in St. Louis, Michaels didn’t invent the term she was associated with, but did manage to resurrect it from obscurity. She initially saw the term on the address label of a magazine delivered to a roommate in the 1960s and initially thought it was a typo. Years later, she mentioned it during a radio broadcast and it began to take off.

Sheila Michaels 2010s.jpg
Sheila Michaels circa 2010.

In 1972, Ms. Magazine launched, choosing the name after prompting from Michaels. By 1986, the term had reached a level of common acceptance that the New York Times announced it was adding the title to its news and editorial columns.

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“Apparently, it was in use in stenographic books for a while,” Michaels said in an 2016 interview for her own obituary with the New York Times. “I had never seen it before: It was kind of arcane knowledge.”

A leading feminist and civil rights crusader, Michaels held a wide variety of jobs, ranging from a ghostwriter to a New York taxi driver to running a Japanese restaurant.

She died on June 22 in Manhattan of acute leukemia.