Feminist ‘ Ms’ dies at 78
Feminist, civil rights activist Born: May 8, 1939, St Louis, Missouri, US Died: June 22, 2017, New York City, New York, US SHEILA Michaels was a feminist and civil- rights activist in the 1960s who has been credited with popularising the courtesy title “Ms” in place of “Mrs” or “Miss” for women.
Michaels ( pictured) was born and raised in St Louis and New York, the child of her mother Alma’s lover, the civil liberties lawyer Ephraim London, whom she did not meet until she was 14.
She attended the College of William and Mary, but was suspended for her political opinions and moved to New York in 1959, when she was 20. She went to Columbia University night school while working as a ghostwriter and editor.
During the ’ 60s, she worked for the Congress of Racial Equality in New York and the Student Nonviolent Co- ordinating Committee in Jackson, Mississippi.
She also worked to organise the historic civilrights March on Washington in 1963 and helped write John Lewis’ speech there.
Named a field secretary for SNCC, Michaels worked in Tennessee as an editor of The Knoxville Crusader, a civil- rights newspaper.
But her civil rights work did not go down well with her family.
After she was arrested in Atlanta in 1963, they disowned her as her businessman stepfather had clients in the South.
At their request, she dropped her stepfather’s surname, Kessler, and became Michaels again, after her mother’s first husband.
But it was in 1961, when Michaels saw the typo “Ms.” on a letter addressed to her roommate, that she saw an alternative to “Miss” or “Mrs”.
She believed it offered women the potential of not being defined by marriage.
“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,” she said in 2007.
“I had not seen very many marriages I’d want to emulate. The whole idea came to me in a couple of hours. Tops.”
The term, which had been proposed before with no success, grew in public usage after Michaels started her push, and it graced the title of the feminist magazine Ms. that was started in 1971 by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.
It was the first periodical ever to be created, owned and operated entirely by women.
A longtime resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Michaels also had a home in St Louis.
Her marriage to Hikaru Shiki, a chef with whom she ran a Japanese restaurant in Lower Manhattan in the 1980s, ended in divorce. ( She was known during their marriage as Sheila Shiki- y- Fe Michaels.)
In later years, Michaels worked in public relations, journalism, criticism and editing, and as a New York taxi driver.
Her survivors include a half brother, Peter London.
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