Sheila Michaels

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Sheila Michaels
Ms Sheila Michaels.jpg
Born Sheila Babs Kessler
(1939-05-08)May 8, 1939
St. Louis, Missouri U.S.
Died June 22, 2017(2017-06-22) (aged 78)
New York City, New York U.S.
Nationality American
Other names Sheila Kessler
Sheila Shiki-y-Michaels
Occupation Feminist
Years active mid-1950s to mid-1960s
Known for Popularized the term Ms.

Sheila Babs Michaels, also known as Sheila Shiki-y-Michaels (May 8, 1939 – June 22, 2017), was an American feminist and civil rights activist credited with popularizing Ms. as a default form of address for women regardless of their marital status.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Michaels was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to Alma Weil Michaels (née Weil), a playwright and theatrical producer,[3] and Ephraim London, a civil rights attorney. Michaels' mother was at that time separated from her husband, Maurice "Bill" Michaels, a shoe representative for Edison Brothers Stores in St. Louis.

Her mother did not want to live with a young child, so three-year-old Michaels was sent to New York City to live with her maternal grandparents, Irving Weil and Frances (Feigela) Weil (née Sacks), in the Bronx. When she was about eight years old, she was returned to live with her mother and her mother's second husband, a wealthy metallurgist, Harry H. Kessler.[4][5] She was also given the last name Kessler. Many years later, her mother and Harry Kessler, disapproving of her political activism, disowned her and asked her to stop using the Kessler name. As a result, she changed back to Michaels.[2][6]

In 1957, she graduated from high school in St. Louis. After high school she attended College of William & Mary but was expelled in part for writing anti-segregationist articles for the student newspaper. After a period of time living in St. Louis working entry level jobs, Michaels moved to New York City in October 1959.[4]


Michaels was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality,[4] and began popularizing the term Ms. from 1961, when she saw it in a newspaper. In 1969, Michaels appeared on the New York City radio station WBAI, where she introduced the term. In doing so, she caught the attention of Gloria Steinem, who in 1972 named her magazine Ms.[1][7][8] In 1975, Michaels went to Laos, working with children injured during the Vietnam War.[9]

Michaels later worked as an oral historian where she interviewed members of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).,[4][10]:170 She also drove a taxi in New York City for ten years, and ran a Japanese restaurant with her husband.[9] She wrote short observational items about her taxi passengers for New York magazine.[11]

The papers of Sheila Michaels are archived in the McCain Library, University of Southern Mississippi.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Michaels traveled and worked in Singapore, Turkey, India, Laos, Korea and Japan.[9][13] Michaels was married to Hikaru Shiki, a Japanese chef in New York City. They ran a Japanese restaurant for over 10 years and Michaels changed her name during the marriage. They later divorced.[13]

Michaels died from leukemia on June 22, 2017, aged 78.[1][2][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Davies, Caroline (7 July 2017). "Sheila Michaels, who brought 'Ms' into mainstream, dies at 78". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b c "Ms Sheila Michaels: Feminist who popularised 'Ms', dies aged 78". BBC News. 7 July 2017.
  3. ^ Alsbury, Ray (18 May 1956). "Beautiful and Tender Story Grips Audience" (Clip open access publication – free to read via closed access publication – behind paywall). St. Louis Jewish Light. p. 6.
  4. ^ a b c d Bolton, Charles C. (interviewer); Michaels, Sheila (5 June 1999). Oral history with Sheila Michaels (Oral history transcript). University of Southern Mississippi.
  5. ^ Martinez, Al (3 July 1972). "The World Awaits You, Alma Kessler" (Clip open access publication – free to read via closed access publication – behind paywall). Hamilton JournalNews. p. 13.
  6. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (6 July 2017). "Sheila Michaels, Who Brought 'Ms.' to Prominence, Dies at 78". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Cryer, Max (2010). Common Phrases: And the Amazing Stories Behind Them. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-616-08143-0. OCLC 788564758.
  8. ^ Mallinson, Christine (2017). "Chapter 20. Language and Its Everyday Revolutionary Potential: Feminist Linguistic Activism in the United States". In McCammon, Holly J. The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Women's Social Movement Activism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 425–426. ISBN 978-0-190-20421-1. OCLC 962360000.
  9. ^ a b c Cohen, Robert A. (6 July 2017). "Sheila Michaels, iconic feminist and justice advocate, dies at 78". St. Louis Jewish Light.
  10. ^ Adickes, Sandra E. (2005). Legacy of a Freedom School. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 69, 88–89, 161. ISBN 978-1-403-97935-3. OCLC 312463972.
  11. ^ Shiki y Michaels, Sheila (25 June 1984). "True Tales: Music Men". New York. p. 22.
  12. ^ "Michaels (Sheila) Papers, 1960-2001" (Finding Aid). McCain Library, University of Southern Mississippi. 2 March 2016.
  13. ^ a b Jeffs, Angela (5 November 2000). "Missing piece of puzzle in story of 'Ms.'". The Japan Times.

Further reading[edit]

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