What's in a Title? A Short History Lesson

On June 22, 2017, Sheila Michaels died at the age of 78. Michaels was a civil rights advocate and one of the first people to use the term Ms. as a title for a woman who did not belong to a man.

During a radio interview in 1969, she said came upon the term in 1961, when she noticed the address label on an envelope to her roommate. What Michaels didn’t know was that in the 1950s, secretaries were using that term to address a woman when they did not know the woman’s marital status. If the woman were unmarried, she was addressed asMiss, and if she were married she was addressed as Mrs. Mrs. is an abbreviation for the word mistress – the feminine of mister. When addressing correspondence to a man, secretaries did not need to know his marital status. They simply used the abbreviation for Mister, Mr.

In 1971, when women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem was preparing to launch her new feminist magazine, she remembered Michaels’s earlier interview and named her magazine Ms. The magazine is still published today. Soon, women all over the English-speaking world – especially in the United States - began using the title Ms. to identify themselves.

The term Ms. itself was not without controversy. In the 1970s, women who called themselves feminists and/or referred to themselves as Ms., were thought to be anti-men, anti-marriage, anti-children, and anti-femininity. There are many people today who still believe this about feminists. (Think Russ Limbaugh and femi-nazi.)

During the 1970s, the laws allowing women in to colleges changed, and women entered the realm of higher education in droves. Today, they make up 60 percent of most college students, and are earning post-graduate degrees as well.

This army of women clutching their doctorate degrees, are earning new titles for themselves. If they graduate from medical school, they earn the title of Dr. If they graduate with doctorate degrees in science, history, engineering, music, etc. they earn the title of Ph.D, for Doctor of Philosophy. However, women graduating from law school earn a juris doctorate degree, and are still referred to as Ms. Men graduating from law school also earn a juris doctorate degree, and are still referred to as Mr.

There are many theories as to why lawyers do not use a “doctor” title, but the legal community does not. When lawyers appear before their peers, whether it be in court or other functions, they are referred to as Mr. or Ms. depending upon gender. Nobody cares what their marital status is – especially the judge hearing a court case.

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