Mildred McWilliams "Millie" Jeffrey (* December 29, 1910, † March 24, 2004) was a lifetime pioneer for workers', civil and women's rights, becoming a union organizer in Philadelphia in 1935 for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. In 1945, she became the first female department head of the United Auto Workers union. In the 1950s and 60s, Jeffrey became more active in the civil rights movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and registering voters in Mississippi. She was influential in the campaign of then Senator John F. Kennedy and later managed Senator Robert F. Kennedy's Michigan state presidential campaign in 1968. In the 1970s, she helped establish the National Women's Political Caucus, fighting for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, child care and equal pay legislation. She was instrumental in advancing the name of Geraldine Ferraro as the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1984.
Although most sources have her birth in 1911, Millie was actually born in Alton, Iowa on December 29, 1910, according to her daughter Sharon Lehrer, "It was one of her tricks to work an extra year..." She arrived into a family of independent, hardworking women. Her grandmother ran the family farm and raised sixteen children after her husband died. Her mother, Bertha McWilliams, who raised Millie, the oldest, and six other children, became Iowa's first female registered pharmacist in 1908 and owned a drugstore in Alton and later in Minneapolis.
As an influential member of the UAW's inner circle, and the first woman to head a division at the UAW, Jeffrey stood up for principles that many take for granted.
Millie's papers are housed at the Reuther Library at Wayne State University.
Recently, Palo Alto High School students undertook a yearlong investigation of Jeffrey's life after coming across a telegram written by Robert F. Kennedy to Jeffrey before he publicly announced his candidacy for the presidency in March 1968.
Millie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
- Millie Jeffrey Papers
- Millie Jeffrey Home Page