Dr. Mildred Jefferson was the first African-American woman to graduate with a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. She was also the first female doctor at the Boston University Medical Center and the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society. She was incredibly political active as a conservative Republican and political activist throughout her career, and is best known for her pro-life work.
As one who guarded her privacy fiercely, there is not a lot out there about her private life. We at The Researcher’s Gateway will try our best to honor that by sticking to the facts available.
Her life’s motto was “Decide what you want to do most, then set out to do it”.
Mildred Jefferson, MD, was born in Carthage, Texas as the only child to Milard and Guthrie Jefferson. After her parents divorced in 1976, Mildred Jefferson moved to Carthage, Texas. Not much is known about her childhood, but we do know that while her parents were not wealthy, her mother’s family owned property and were active in supporting the local Methodist church.
Dr. Jefferson’s interest in medicine started early and she relentlessly pursued her education.
She became interested in medicine at a young age as she followed the local doctor when he made house calls in his horse drawn buggy. She said “I remember being impressed that people got well after his visits. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized people only called him if they thought he could do something. Otherwise he’d have to make a second trip out to sign the death certificate”.
Dr. Jefferson’s high intelligence had her going through school quickly.
In Carthage, Mildred Jefferson went to segregated school and then went on to Texas College in Tyler, Texas, an historically black four year institution. After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in 1945 at the age of 18, she wanted to go from there to medical school. At the time of the 1940 census only 129 of the 165,000 physicians in the United States were African-American women. She was deemed too young at the time for medical school, so instead she went to Tufts University to get a Master’s Degree in biology.
Finally, in 1947, two years after accepting its first female student, Jefferson was accepted to Harvard Medical School. Dr. Jefferson graduated from medical school in 1951. After graduation, she applied and was accepted for an internship in surgery at Boston City Hospital, the first woman to do so. Surgery, at this point in time, was a medical specialty that was particularly unusual for female doctors. The American Board of Surgery granted her certification in 1972.
Dr. Jefferson accepted a job as an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Boston Medical School after her residency. She later became the first woman elected to the Boston Medical Society.
Dr. Mildred Jefferson turned to Political Activism around 1970.
The American Medical Association had passed a resolution losing the restrictions placed on physicians who performed abortions. Dr. Jefferson had fought this resolution with several others, firmly believing that life began at conception. After the resolution was passed, she started a lifelong campaign against abortion. With her help, the Value of Life Committee was established and from there they established the Massachusetts Committee for Life, a more activist oriented group. After Roe v. Wade, she was launched into the spotlight of Pro-Life activism.
After a full and fascinating career, Dr. Jefferson died on 15th of October, 2010. She was in her home in Carthage, Texas.
Other Amazing Firsts by African-American Women.
- Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, MD. – First African-American woman to receive her Doctor of Medicine (1864)
- Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman – First African-American and Native American Woman to get her Pilot’s License
- Octavia Butler – African-American Science Fiction Author
- Althea Gibson – African-American tennis player and 1st black athlete to cross the line of color in international tennis.
- Shirley Jackson, Ph. D. – First African-American woman to get a doctorate from MIT, the first to be awarded the National Medal of Science, and the second to get a PhD in physics.
- Katherine Johnson – African-American mathematician who worked for NASA and who’s orbital calculations were critical to the U.S. manned space flights.