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From the archive, 9 June 1924: Debating the merits of Mrs and Miss

At a Women’s Congress in Finland one of the speakers has been pleading for the abolition of the prefix “Miss” as a “dishonouring designation” for the unmarried woman. All women, according to this reformer, should be entitled to “Mrs.”, and its various European equivalents, whether they are married or not.

But it occurs at once that all women would not be grateful for the change. There have been Amazons who would reply that the really “dishonouring designation” was that unlovely word “Mrs.”, with its implications of dependence on a mere “Mr.” There might even be a counter-movement to establish the right of a hearty old grandmother of seventy-five to be addressed as “Miss.”

In any event, changes of this kind are in the choice of society in general, and women can hardly be relieved of the responsibility of having agreed to the titles which are in use. Certainly in this country Mrs. and Miss were not established by any man-made Act of Parliament. They are purely a matter of social custom, and, as they have changed in the past, they may be changed in the future if the majority is in favour of an alteration. In the seventeenth and earlier eighteenth centuries “Mrs.” could fall as impartially as the gentle dew from heaven on married and unmarried alike. Even Hannah More, who died a charming maiden lady of nearly ninety in the year 1833, had been “Mrs. Hannah More” to Johnson and his friends.

In spite of the protest from Finland, there seems to be little feeling, one way or the other, about the modern restriction of “Mrs.” to married women. The world, as “R.L.S.” sings, is so full of a number of things that the only way of dealing with it is to take as many of them as possible for granted. The Finnish proposal looks like an example of the opposite and usually unprofitable method of spending on things that don’t matter the time and attention which might be devoted to those that do.


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