This week's On Language column in the New York Times Magazine was about the stop-and-start genesis of the title Ms. It was first proposed in an article in The Sunday Republican of Springfield, Mass., in 1901,which said:
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.
But it wasn't until long after 1901 that it caught on, as feminists promoted it as a title that did not tie them to marital status. But that wasn't the aim of the 1901 article, On Language thinks:
Though (philologist Mario) identified the early proponents of Ms. as feminists, the Republican writer (most likely a man) presented the argument for the title as one of simple etiquette and expediency.