Meet a Keelite

Meet Rosemary Billings on International Women's Day, 8th March 2018

Rosemary in 1967 Rosemary Billings graduated from Keele in 1969 in American Studies & English. Alongside a long and varied career at a senior level in Canadian government service, Rosemary has been prominent and influential in campaigning for and securing women’s rights in Canada.

She is also the first woman to use the honorific ‘Ms’ in a letter to The Times in 1972, achieving a symbolic breakthrough in feminist campaigning. In January 1972 The Times had printed a letter from Rosemary congratulating the Post Office for its efforts over Christmas. However, one significant change had been made, and she followed it up with a second letter, which was again published:

“Sir, I am grateful to you for printing my letter (Jan 8). But I am somewhat surprised to find the abbreviation ‘Mrs’ placed before my name. Like other feminist women, I sign my name (as I did in this case) with the abbreviation ‘Ms’. Like its counterpart, ‘Mr’, this has the advantage of giving away no secret but that of gender. May I remain sir yours faithfully, R Billings.”

The letters editor paid grudging attention. Henceforth, if a woman chose to be titled Ms, that title was printed, at least on the letters page. It was not until 1992 that Ms became common practice across the paper. Read the 2017 Times article by Rose Wild: "Why Women are entitled to choose their own status".

Photo left: Rosemary Billings, a student at Keele back in 1967.

Rosemary continues to be active in Feminist organizations and always marks International Women's Day. Rosemary said:

"To me, International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate achievements in advancing equality, reflect on the work still to be done, and enjoy the company of other women - and male allies - in song and feast. “This year, I hope to do all three at an event organized by the women of Bequia, the small Caribbean island where I am escaping from the Canadian cold!”

For Rosemary, the inspiration of others continues to motivate her. She continues:

Rosemary sailing off Bequia

"I’m inspired more by the collective actions of women than by individuals. I deeply respect the women working in movements such as #metoo, #idlenomore, and #blacklivesmatter.  They are articulating and confronting deeply challenging and troubling issues of race, class, and economic privilege, gender, sexuality, and their intersection. The Third-Wave women who rose up around the world and massively protested the election of Donald Trump and the values he represents are awe-inspiring. Of course, there are individual women who demonstrate great courage, calm, and persistence in the face of overwhelming resistance from supporters of the status quo - I’m thinking of Malala Yousafzai, for example, the late June Callwood, who started the first AIDS hospice in Canada, and even Hillary Clinton (not that I agree with much of her politics!)".

Photo right: Nowadays - sailing to Bequia.

Hoping to visit Keele in 2018, Rosemary adds: "I have been impressed to see how Keele is performing in the League Tables in terms of student satisfaction... an indication, perhaps that the sense of Keele community remains strong notwithstanding all the growth."

Rosemary was a Keelite of the Month in 2011 and you can find out much more about her career and journey here: Rosemary Billings - Keelite of the Month August 2011.