The first use of “Ms” has not yet been fully established though there are some claims that it may have been used as early as 1767. According to Dennis Baron, a tombstone of Sarah Spooner, who died in 1767 in Plymouth, Massachusetts (US), contains the reference to ‘Ms’ though this has been disputed.
The earliest known proposal for the use of “Ms.” appeared in the The Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts on November 10, 1901:
“There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts… Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation “Ms” is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as “Mizz,” which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs alike.”
Ms and Feminism
The modern use of Ms. in preference to the traditional appellations was conceived by Sheila Michaels in 1961. Address-o-graph plates were difficult to repair, and small, poor groups would not waste resources to correct minor mistakes. Michaels’ roommate, Mary Hamilton (Congress of Racial Equality’s first female Field Secretary in the South), had spoken to the group in Detroit and been mailed a copy of their newsletter. Michaels “was looking for a title for a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man.” Her efforts to promote use of a new honorific were ignored in the Civil Rights era, and seven years later in the nascent Women’s Movement. Around 1971, 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 Ms. Foundation for Women.