Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson: An Eloquent, Passionate Pro-Life Leader

By Dave Andrusko

“I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live.”
              — Dr. Mildred Jefferson

Dr. Mildred Jefferson

At every National Right to Life Convention, there are certain moments that will stay with the audience forever. My guess is that NRL’s sterling video tribute to the late Dr. Mildred Jefferson, one of NRL first Presidents, will easily qualify.

I wrote about Dr. Jefferson the day after she passed away. I’ve reprinted it below. However the carefully crafted 12-minute long video offered much additional information that helped us see in greater detail what a remarkable woman she was. You can watch the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UB3o-QazcNg.

Please set aside the time to watch this powerful presentation, brilliantly and lovingly put together by Derrick Jones, NRL’s Director of Communication. You have to hear Dr. Jefferson in her own voice to appreciate why she was a powerful orator and debater.

Here is the memorable final paragraph from the letter Dr. Jefferson wrote for the 1977 NRL Convention book:

“We are speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves; defending those who cannot defend themselves and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. We will win the battle for life because we must. But when we win, that victory will not be for ourselves—but for America, the world, and all mankind.”

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Mildred Fay Jefferson, RIP

By Dave Andrusko [This ran October 18, 2010]

It was a remarkable moment: a flood of wonderful memories, competing with shock and astonishment.

My wife and I were driving back from Maryland on that Sunday in mid-October when the cell phone rang.

An old friend who formerly worked at NRLC was calling to ask us if we had heard. Heard what, my wife asked? That Dr. Jefferson had died.

What? Mildred Jefferson, a force of nature, nigh on indestructible, dead? It could not be. Tiny in stature she had a commanding presence that demanded that you listen to her every word. She would be at the next NRLC board meeting as surely as the tide rolls in.

But Dr. Jefferson had died, sad news sent along by her close friend, Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. The news was almost unbelievable.

At 84 Dr. Jefferson had continued to serve our Movement as faithfully today as she had in the 1970s when she was first elected as vice chairman of the NRLC board in June 1973. Given her eloquence and passion, it’s no surprise that Mildred Jefferson then served as chairman of the board and then went on to serve three consecutive terms as NRLC president from 1975–78.

She was, in every sense of the word, a pioneer in the Pro-Life Movement, a woman who was instrumental in establishing National Right to Life, the largest, most effective, and most representative pro-life organization in the world.

Even those who do not share our commitment to the unborn were awed by Mildred Jefferson’s accomplishments. A very kind obituary written by a Boston Globe staff writer began with “Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and the first female surgical intern at Boston City Hospital, broke many race and gender barriers during her long career as a doctor.”

This shouldn’t just be slightly acknowledged with a casual nod and passed by. In 1951, when she graduated from Harvard Medical School, it was highly unusual for a woman, let alone a woman of color, to apply for a surgical internship at Boston City Hospital. That same Globe profile points out, “She later became the first female doctor at the former Boston University Medical Center.”

What a trailblazer!

A personal note. My involvement in our Movement began in the mid-1970s. Like so many of my peers, my initiation was reading the transformative book written by Dr. Jack Willke (later to serve as NRLC President), Handbook on Abortion, and watching the astonishingly persuasive slide show he and Barbara, his wife, put together.

But as powerful as that combination was to me and to an entire generation of pro-lifers, it was a speech delivered by Mildred Jefferson that made the first indelible impression on me. It’s 35 years or so ago, so I do not remember a single word.

What I do vividly remember, however, is the atmosphere in the room at that hotel in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. I have been at just about every kind of gathering you can think of—from the academic and the political and the spiritual to pure entertainment—and never was the overused word “electric” more appropriate.

Periodically, Mildred would call me with a very small request. “David?” she’d inquire, and I knew instantly who it was, so recognizable was her voice. It is very sad, indeed, to know that I will never hear that voice again.

Our Movement was blessed—is blessed—to have had Dr. Jefferson as one of our most important and representative leaders. As an African-American woman, she keenly understood the power of invidious discrimination. Nothing would irritate pro-abortionists more than when she compared the plight of the unborn to black people under slavery.

Dr. Mildred Jefferson’s passing is a reminder that our Movement rests on the shoulders of giants, even when they are barely five feet tall.

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