According to Wikipedia:
“Ms.” began to be used as early as the 17th century, as a title derived from the then formal “Mistress”, which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status. “Ms.”, however, fell into disuse in favor of the other two titles and was not revived until the 20th century.
In 1961, Sheila Michaels attempted to put the term into use when she saw what she thought was a typographical error on an address label sent to her roommate. In doing so, 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. Around 1971, in a lull during a 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.
As for myself, at some point in my teens I started getting mail addressed with Ms as my new official title. At first, I was thrilled! I felt like a grown-up! But, as the years wore on I realized that the title had simply become the symbol of feminism. Somehow, it felt as if I was standing up and beating my chest with indignity. Perhaps having grown up with hippies as parents, had a bit of an influence.
As a mom and childcare specialist (spanning more than 30 years,) I have been addressed by children and parents alike as Ms. Or is it Miss? Perhaps Mizz? With most kids, and many adults, it’s really hard to tell. Honestly? I don’t mind. With the slurring of the moniker, it feels like we’ve taken away that feeling of defiance. Not that I’m against feminism, it’s just that I don’t want to constantly feel like I’m expected to go to battle over something that has been part of our vernacular since the 70s. At least by word of mouth, we women have a title that applies to us all. I call that a win.
One phenomenon I have noticed since I became a mom, is that from the first moment, you lose your individual identity. You give everything of yourself to become this, and you are now, and forevermore, “Mom”. Sometimes distinguished by your child’s name. Sometimes whispered. Sometimes yelled. Universally understood…