Sheila Michaels

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sheila Michaels
Ms Sheila Michaels.jpg
Sheila Babs Michaels

(1939-05-08)May 8, 1939
DiedJune 22, 2017(2017-06-22) (aged 78)
Other namesSheila Kessler
Sheila Shiki-y-Michaels
Years activemid-1950s to mid-1960s
Known forPopularized the term Ms.
FamilyMeyer London (granduncle)
Harriet Fraad (cousin)
Rosalyn Baxandall (cousin)

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]

Career and activism[edit]

Michaels was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality.[4]

In 1961, she attempted to put the term Ms. into use when she saw what she thought was a typographical error on the address label of a copy of News & Letters sent to her roommate.[7][8] Michaels "was looking for a title for a woman who did not 'belong' to a man."[9] 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. Her efforts to promote use of a new honorific were at first ignored.[10] In 1969, in a lull during a WBAI-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. The magazine Ms. debuted on newsstands in January 1972, and its much-publicized name quickly led to widespread usage.[11]

In 1975, Michaels went to Laos, working with children injured during the Vietnam War.[12]

Michaels also worked as an oral historian where she interviewed members of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).[4][13]: 170  She also drove a taxi in New York City for ten years, and ran a Japanese restaurant with her husband.[12] She wrote short observational items about her taxi passengers for New York magazine.[14]

The papers of Sheila Michaels are archived in the McCain Library, University of Southern Mississippi.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Michaels traveled and worked in Singapore, Turkey, India, Laos, Korea and Japan.[12][16] 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.[16]

Michaels died from leukemia on June 22, 2017, aged 78.[1][2][6] Through her father, Michaels' granduncle was U.S. Representative Meyer London, her cousin was Rosalyn Baxandall, and another is Baxandall's sister Harriet Fraad.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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 via closed access). St. Louis Jewish Light. p. 6.
  4. ^ a b c d Michaels, Sheila (5 June 1999). "Oral history with Sheila Michaels" (Oral history transcript) (Interview). Interviewed by Charles C. Bolton. University of Southern Mississippi.
  5. ^ Martinez, Al (3 July 1972). "The World Awaits You, Alma Kessler" (Clip open access via closed access). 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. ^ Jeffs, Angela (November 5, 2000). "Missing piece of puzzle in story of 'Ms.'". The Japan Times Online.
  8. ^ Michaels, Sheila (March–April 2008). "Forty Years of Defying the Odds". Solidarity Webzine. Solidarity. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  9. ^ Kay, Eve (28 June 2007). "Call Me Ms". The Guardian. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  10. ^ Fishko, Sara (June 28, 2012). "Fishko Files: Ms". WNYC. Archived from the original on 2013-03-12. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  11. ^ Zimmer, Ben (2009-10-25). "On Language: Ms". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  12. ^ a b c Cohen, Robert A. (6 July 2017). "Sheila Michaels, iconic feminist and justice advocate, dies at 78". St. Louis Jewish Light.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Shiki y Michaels, Sheila (25 June 1984). "True Tales: Music Men". New York. p. 22.
  15. ^ "Michaels (Sheila) Papers, 1960-2001" (Finding Aid). McCain Library, University of Southern Mississippi. 2 March 2016.
  16. ^ a b Jeffs, Angela (5 November 2000). "Missing piece of puzzle in story of 'Ms.'". The Japan Times.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]