The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Dr. Mildred Jefferson

Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson was born in 1927 in Pittsburg, Texas - the daughter of Gurthie Roberts Jefferson, a public school teacher, and Millard F. Jefferson, a Methodist minister. She attended public schools in East Texas and entered Harvard Medical School in 1947 after receiving a B.A degree summa cum laude from Texas College in Tyler, Texas and a M.S. degree from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

Jefferson became the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 1951. She was the first woman to be a surgical intern at Boston City Hospital and the first woman admitted to membership in the Boston Surgical Society. She is, however, best-known for her longtime support and involvement in the “right-to-life movement” in America. She helped to establish the National Right to Life Committee and served three times as its president. She has been a local, regional and national speaker and activist.

After her Harvard Medical School graduation, Jefferson served as a general surgeon with the former Boston University Medical Center and Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at Boston University Medical School.

Jefferson has had a career-long interest in medical jurisprudence, medical ethics and the interface between medicine and law, as well as their impact on public policy and society. As a founding member of state and national “right-to-life” organizations, she is president of Right to Life Crusade.

Jefferson is a founding member of the Board of Governors and a past President of the Value of Life Committee of Massachusetts and is also active with the American Life League and Americans United for Life Legal Defense Fund. Jefferson is also a member of Black Americans for Life and is held in high esteem by Feminists for Life. Jefferson passed away on October 18, 2010.

Accession Number

A2006.063

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/5/2006

Last Name

Jefferson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Fay

Occupation
Schools

A.L. Turner High School

Texas College

Tufts University

Harvard Medical School

Harvard

First Name

Mildred

Birth City, State, Country

Pittsburgh

HM ID

JEF02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Monterey, California

Favorite Quote

To Thy Own Self Be True

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

4/6/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Apples (Washington State Red)

Death Date

10/18/2010

Short Description

Surgeon Dr. Mildred Jefferson (1927 - 2010 ) was the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, the first woman to be a surgical intern at Boston City Hospital and the first woman admitted to membership in the Boston Surgical Society.

Employment

Boston University Medical Center Hospital

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:444,4:8954,144:9398,152:9916,162:10582,172:13172,225:14282,290:14578,295:14874,300:16354,335:16798,342:17094,348:17538,356:18574,375:19166,384:20202,405:21090,420:21460,426:21904,434:27755,448:28538,458:29930,478:35411,550:38280,559:38604,564:39171,572:41115,605:42492,628:42816,633:47433,704:48000,713:54507,768:55752,786:60898,880:61479,889:63969,923:64550,932:65131,940:65712,948:66459,964:69980,971:70380,977:70780,982:71180,987:78469,1107:80681,1153:82024,1179:82419,1185:86527,1246:91474,1252:95496,1285:96000,1294:98142,1333:101410,1366:103894,1425:106447,1507:107206,1529:107827,1541:109345,1568:110035,1579:110380,1586:110863,1594:111208,1600:112726,1627:119440,1687:120000,1695:120560,1703:120880,1708:121360,1715:121760,1721:122240,1728:122640,1735:123040,1741:123520,1748:124320,1761:124640,1766:126800,1806:127200,1812:127520,1817:128320,1828:131440,1866:132320,1877:141330,1947:142425,1963:147097,2031:151477,2109:158278,2163:158586,2168:159433,2180:159741,2185:160588,2199:160896,2204:161589,2216:163360,2253:167518,2324:168211,2339:168981,2353:169443,2360:172870,2368:173536,2383:177310,2471:180640,2529:180936,2534:183090,2539$0,0:1577,48:1992,54:2656,62:6723,193:14691,327:16268,349:23028,378:25880,415:26708,426:27536,436:29652,463:30204,470:32044,495:36680,534:37640,552:38520,563:39800,580:40440,589:41160,600:41560,606:43080,628:47410,704:48040,716:48460,723:50210,754:50560,760:50840,765:52030,784:52590,794:54410,821:54830,828:55110,833:56860,870:57140,875:60220,961:60500,966:60780,971:72041,1017:73529,1037:75575,1071:75947,1076:76319,1081:77063,1091:77993,1103:78458,1109:79016,1116:82190,1141:84070,1150:84415,1155:84967,1163:85312,1169:85726,1176:86209,1185:86761,1194:87313,1203:91935,1304:92349,1312:93798,1335:94281,1343:94833,1352:95316,1361:95592,1366:96972,1402:97593,1413:98076,1421:98559,1429:98835,1434:99594,1447:102290,1460
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Mildred Jefferson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes the origin of her name

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her profession

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes the community of Carthage, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls being honored by her hometown of Pittsburg, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson remembers her mother's teaching career

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson remembers her father's ministry

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls visiting her maternal family in East Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson remembers her family physician, Dr. Allen Moore Baker

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson remembers her influences as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her early experiences of epidemics

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her premedical studies at Texas College

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her transition to Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her home in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her graduate studies at Tufts College in Medford, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls attending Boston's Harvard Medical School

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her studies at Boston's Harvard Medical School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her surgical internship at Boston City Hospital

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls the challenges she faced as a female surgical resident

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her career at Boston University Medical Center Hospital

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about her medical association memberships

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson remembers Dr. William Augustus Hinton

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls founding the Value of Life Committee of Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls founding the National Right to Life Committee

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her National Right to Life Committee presidency

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about Feminists for Life of America

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about Black Americans for Life

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her presentation style

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her role at Massachusetts Citizens for Life

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about her media involvement

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes the right to life movement

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her correspondence with President Ronald Reagan

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson remembers President Ronald Reagan's election in 1980

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her campaign for the U.S. Senate

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson shares her perspective on care management

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson shares her perspective on affirmative action

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls receiving the Father Flanagan Award for Service to Youth

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls her involvement with the Knights of Columbus

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls being honored by Texas College in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson shares her perspective on sex education

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about the role of health education for youth

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her sources of moral and financial support

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her written works in progress

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her aspiration to own a newspaper business

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson reflects upon her childhood in East Texas, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson reflects upon her childhood in East Texas, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson talks about the importance of history

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her hopes for the African American community and how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

1$8

DATitle
Dr. Mildred Jefferson describes her studies at Boston's Harvard Medical School
Dr. Mildred Jefferson recalls founding the National Right to Life Committee
Transcript
You were beginning to tell me about your preparation at Harvard Medical School [Boston, Massachusetts] to move into surgery. But before we get back to that, you mentioned earlier, the dog lab, and I wanted to--what was that about?$$Well (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Where did that fit into your studies and research?$$In the, the second year, when we were beginning our clinical studies, in order to prepare us for being able to assist in the operating room, we were given basic operating and surgical technique in a dog lab. And, although I'm just one step removed from being an antivivisectionist because I knew we took good care of the dogs. And I knew that the handlers, who took care of them after we finished, treated them well. I could accept doing our operations on the dogs. 'Cause after all you had to treat your patient well to have him or her survive. So, I could do that, but that was one benefit of being in Harvard Medical School. We did have a very, very good program. And, Dr. Carl Walter [Carl W. Walter], who headed that department and Dr. David Hume [David M. Hume], who was another one of my professors, who was only as resident at that, was the chief resident at that time, gave me the opportunity of putting in extra time. So, I had fairly advanced surgical technique by the time I even got to my internship.$$Well, tell me about that preparation then, the third and fourth years, and the surgical experiences (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Well, I took every course that I thought would be of value and I certainly took everything that I thought would make up for what would be, expected to be shortcomings. So, that I did an elective in urology because most people would expect that a woman doctor would not be very strong in urology. Although, obviously women have urological problems as well. In most urological practice I think most urologists see more men than women in their practices. So that in medical school I not only did special work with--in urology, but I took the course with Dr. J. Hartwell Harrison, one of my favorites, who was one of the great urologists of his time. And, he said to me, to work helping him with sections of a book that he was working on. So, that if you look in that textbook, and I've forgotten which one it is, you will see in the charts and the diagrams. He always gave me credit for the things that I did. So, he'd make sure my name was listed (laughter). So, if we lo- go back to those old editions of that textbook, you will see that work.$Okay (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Because we found after a year or so that the Value of Life Committee [Value of Life Committee of Massachusetts] was somewhat passive. You have to wait for people to invite you to speak. (Laughter) You can't just go speaking to them if they haven't invited you. And because it was really intense promotion and accelerated promotion of the abortion acceptance, we decided we'd better get something more formal. But, we were pushed because the pro-abortion groups got, in 1972, got a non-binding referendum on the ballots of twenty carefully selected cities and towns that would repeal the abortion laws of the Commonwealth [Commonwealth of Massachusetts]. So that many of the people that we had spoken to at other times came together in ad-hoc groups to fight that issue. And, we joined them together and that's--was the nucleus that became Massachusetts Citizens for Life [Boston, Massachusetts].$$I see.$$Although, we lost that referendum by 55/45. When we finally got our applications in and articles of incorporation, we got them back about ten days or two weeks before January 22nd, '73 [1973] when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark abortion decisions, Roe versus Wade [Roe v. Wade, 1973] and Doe versus Bolton [Doe v. Bolton, 1973]. But, in June of that year, we formally created National Right to Life Committee. And, I had the honor of giving the keynote address that launched the organization.