[Ads-l] "Ms." interdatings (1921-22)
bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 17 18:07:23 UTC 2015
Excellent find, Garson! Here's the full text of the item:
Boston Post, July 25, 1921, p. 10, col. 4
"The Observant Citizen"
Quite frequently the question is asked, "How to address a letter to a
woman when one is not sure whether she is 'Miss' or 'Mrs.'"
The following clever solution of the problem appears in a publication
entitled "We Are Here," edited by Leo Burnett, advertising manager of
the La Fayette Motors:
C.P. Rockwell of Boston was recently puzzled about what prefix to use
in circularizing women whose names were taken from the registration
lists with no index as to whether they were "Miss" or "Mrs." He
considered, quite properly, that to omit any prefix whatsoever from
the name of a woman with whom they were unacquainted would be the
first step toward the failure of a place of literature coming to her
Some research was done, in fact the question was carried to the
president of Harvard University, upon whose authority it is correct to
use the prefix "Ms." in the case of a woman, whether she is married or
(This was quite early in the career of Leo Burnett, who would later be
a very famous ad executive.)
On Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 12:41 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> Ben: Here is a link to a slightly earlier interdating.
> Date: July 25, 1921
> Newspaper: Boston Post
> Newspaper Location: Boston, Massachusetts
> Article: The Observant Citizen
> Quote Page 10
> The Boston newspaper points to an earlier source.
> [Acknowledgment info]
> The following clever solution of the problem appears in a publication
> entitled "We Are Here," edited by Leo Burnett, advertising manager of
> the La Fayette Motors:
> [End acknowledgement]
> On Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 9:56 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> > The earliest known proposal for "Ms." as a title for women regardless
> > of marital status was made in the Springfield (Mass.) Republican of
> > Nov. 10, 1901.
> > http://www.vocabulary.com/articles/wordroutes/hunting-the-elusive-first-ms/
> > https://illinois.edu/blog/view/25/6748
> > But after that item (which circulated in many newspapers at the time),
> > we hadn't come across anything else on "Ms." until a 1932 letter to
> > the New York Times (using the variant "M's") and Mario Pei's _The
> > Story of Language_ in 1949. Dennis Baron recently shared an example he
> > found from 1922, and that led me to find some other cites from the
> > early '20s that help fill in the gaps a bit.
> > The first one is from 1921, in a bit of advertorial content from the
> > Cleveland department store William Taylor & Son:
> > ---
> > _Plain Dealer_ (Cleveland), Aug. 3, 1921, p. 10 (advt.)
> > "Taylor Store News," published by Wm. Taylor Son & Co.
> > Ann Sawyer says:
> > An advertising agency wondered how it would address letters to a list
> > of women whose names bore no indication as to whether they were "Miss"
> > or "Mrs." The No-Less-Than-Authority, the President of Harvard,
> > informed them that it is quite correct if in doubt, to use the prefix
> > "Ms."
> > ... [signed] Ann Sawyer, Taylor Personal Service Bureau, East Gallery
> > ---
> > I'm not sure how the president of Harvard fits into this (at the time
> > it was Abbott Lawrence Lowell), but perhaps he recalled the
> > Springfield Republican item from twenty years earlier.
> > Next up is a 1922 syndicated column by Lucy Jeanne Price:
> > ---
> > http://newspaperarchive.com/us/texas/brownsville/brownsville-herald/1922/12-04/page-4
> > Brownsville (Texas) Daily Herald, Dec. 4, 1922, p. 4, col. 2
> > "New York Letter" by Lucy Jeanne Price
> > It is a constant complaint that women no longer add "Miss" or "Mrs."
> > before their names, and that consequently in writing a business letter
> > to a strange woman, one never knows how to address her. One New York
> > firm has solved the problem by the ingenious adoption of a telescoped
> > prefix, "Ms." This designates equally well a matron or a maid, and
> > while it may not look impressive, it is going to save much indignation
> > on the part of those who would be wrongly addressed and who always
> > blame the other person for not knowing their matrimonial state.
> > ---
> > Ms. Price's column appeared in most papers as "New York Letter,"
> > although in the below example it's titled "On Broadway" (which Walter
> > Winchell would later use for his column).
> > http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn78001466/1922-12-04/ed-1/seq-8/
> > Palatka (Fla.) Daily News, Dec. 4, 1922, p. 8, col. 2
> > Shortly thereafter was an item credited by several papers to the
> > Pittsburgh Dispatch (the Dispatch from 1922 is not yet digitized
> > AFAIK, but Chronicling America should get to it eventually).
> > ---
> > Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 1922, p. 2, col. 3
> > One large New York firm that uses mailing lists for circularization
> > found it difficult to decide what prefix to place before a woman's
> > name when there was nothing to indicate whether she was married. Mary
> > Josephine Smith, for instance, could conceivably be either a
> > bobbed-haired flapper or a buxom matron of 50. It was a tossup whether
> > to address her as "Miss" or "Mrs," and if the guess proved wrong she
> > became indignant.
> > Finally a bright chap suggested the prefix "Ms." As a hedging scheme
> > this worked fine. The clerk who made the suggestion received a raise.
> > --Pittsburgh Dispatch.
> > ---
> > The item that Dennis found is a further elaboration on this, appended
> > to a discussion about the lack of a gender-neutral third-person
> > singular pronoun in English:
> > ---
> > Arizona Republican, Dec. 22, 1922, p. 4, col. 2
> > "Our Changing Language"
> > Perhaps too there will come along soon as ingenious an individual as a
> > young clerk of a large New York firm that used mailing lists for
> > circularization purposes and found it difficult to decide what prefix
> > to use before a woman's name when there was nothing to indicate
> > whether she was married or single.
> > Sarah Ann Jones might be a staid married woman, an aged and
> > respectable spinster, or a short-skirted, bobbed-haired flapper. There
> > was no way to decide except by the flipping of a coin, heads for
> > "Mrs." and tails for "Miss." The chances were just as even that the
> > addressee would be affronted.
> > This bright young clerk solved the difficulty in so simple a way that
> > it is a wonder that nobody ever thought of it before -- by a
> > compromise, the means of settling difficult and disputed points ever
> > since the world began. He used the prefix "Ms.," equally applicable to
> > married and single ladies. His salary was raised in consequence.
> > ---
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