Mildred Fay Jefferson (April 4, 1926 – October 15, 2010) was an American physician and political activist. The first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society, she is known for her opposition to the legalization of abortion and her work as president of the National Right to Life Committee.
Born in Pittsburg, Texas, Jefferson was the only child of Millard and Guthrie Jefferson, a Methodist minister and a school teacher. Jefferson was raised in Carthage, Texas. At a young age “Millie” followed the town doctor around on his horse-drawn buggy, this would later inspire her to become a doctor.
At the age of 16 years she earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas College. Since she was too young to attend medical school, she went to Tufts University where she received her master’s degree. She then went on to Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1951, becoming the first black woman to do so.
After graduating from medical school, she did a surgical internship at Boston City Hospital, becoming the first woman to do so. She was also the first female doctor at the former Boston University Medical Center. She would later become the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society.
It was around 1970 when Jefferson became one of the founders of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. She later helped found the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). In 1971, she became a member of the NRLC board of directors. She became the vice president of the National Right to Life Committee in 1973 and then was elected as chairman of the board the following year. Mildred then was elected as president of NRLC in 1975 until 1978.
It was in 1980 that Jefferson helped the National Right to Life Committee start a political action committee because she believed it was important to lobby and support pro-Life candidates for office. While a Republican, she helped democrat Ellen McCormack run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1976. Apart from NRLC, Jefferson served on boards of directors of more than 30 pro-life organizations.
Jefferson is also noted for changing Ronald Reagan’s stance on abortion from pro-choice to pro-life. He wrote to her in a letter, “You have made it irrefutably clear that an abortion is the taking of a human life, I am grateful to you.”
Jefferson was a self-described “Lincoln Republican” and served on the 1980 Massachusetts Reagan for President Campaign. She also unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the 1982, 1990, and 1994 U.S. Senate elections.
Photo: Womens’s Activism NYC0