It was the American futurologist Larry Taub who rang to ask whether I was interested in writing about Sheila Michaels. So began a three-way conversation by e-mail between Japan, New York and wherever Larry was landing to promote his latest book.
Sheila, he said, was instrumental in shifting the address Ms. into common usage. Which was a surprise, because I -- like many others, I suspect -- had somehow always assumed that Gloria Steinem was responsible, through the founding of the magazine Ms in 1971. But Steinem never claimed it as her own invention; rather she admitted in an interview that it was during the time when she and her cofounders were in the process of coming up with a name for their new publication that she first heard the term Ms. from a friend who had heard it on the radio.
"That would have been me," said Sheila Michaels, who has been living on New York's East Side for over 40 years, mostly working as a writer, editor and publicist. "In 1969 I was invited to be interviewed on WBAI, a popular liberal New York FM radio station. Feminism was hot news, and the interviewer wanted a group of us to explain what was behind the movement." Michaels had been looking for a chance to talk about Ms., so when there was a lull in the discussion, she plunged in, although most feminists were discouraged.