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From me to you, highlighting challenges faced by girls

Wordy Wednesday – Miss, Ms. Mrs. and Mr.

Dear Daughters,

Most people think that Mrs. is an abbreviation for missus, the feminine form of mister or Mr. They are almost correct.

Mrs. is the abbreviation for the feminine form of mister. However, the feminine form of mister (or master) is not missus, but mistress! Yep, mistress.

By the 17th century, mistress was used to refer to a woman who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle supported by a wealthy man in exchange for sexual pleasures. By the 20th century women were more educated and able to support themselves and therefore less dependent on wealthy men to “keep” them. Now mistress is most commonly used to describe a woman who is in a relationship with a married man.

It was also in the 17th century that the term Miss became the abbreviated form of mistress used to identify unmarried women and the original abbreviation of Mrs. for mistress was used to identify married women.

The earliest known push for the use of Ms. as a title for all women regardless of their marital status appeared in The Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts on November 10, 1901. The term became popularized by Gloria Steinem in 1971 when she co-founded Ms. Magazine.

And there you have it. A woman’s marital status was not always identified in her title. We used to be Mrs. (mistress) and men used to be Mr.(mister, master). Mistress came to mean something negative at the same we began assigning the original Mrs. to married women and invented a new abbreviation, Miss, to identify the unmarried ones. We never invented a new abbreviation for the unmarried men! Why is that?

Now we have a choice. We can continue to use titles that identify our marital status, while our male counterparts continue to use one title, married or unmarried, or we can go back to using one title that simply means woman. For me, Ms. it is, unless we can claim back Mrs. for all women.


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