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OWU Honorary Degree Recipient Receives Medal of Freedom

August 16, 2000

DELAWARE, OHIO -- The recent White House presentation of the prestigious Medal of Freedom Award struck an especially harmonious chord within the Ohio Wesleyan community, as Mildred McWilliams Jeffrey received the nation's highest civilian honor on Aug. 9. Jeffrey, a lifelong supporter and lobbyist for social justice matters, was honored at Ohio Wesleyan in 1997 with the honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. She also is a friend and colleague of OWU politics and government professor, Joan McLean, as they have worked together over the last 20 years to help recruit women to run for elective office.

The Iowa-born Jeffrey attended the University of Minnesota, where she became active with the campus YWCA, a group known for its strong support of civil rights issues. Her involvement with related YWCA programs exposed Jeffrey to the plight of women factory workers who coped with low wages, long hours and lack of respect from others. These experiences and others encountered while working toward a graduate degree in social work at Bryn Mawr College, inspired her lifelong commitment to social justice. Jeffrey became a union organizer in 1935 and went on to work for the United Auto Workers as Director of the Women's Bureau, with UAW President Walter Reuther as her mentor.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Jeffrey became more active in the civil rights movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and registered voters in Mississippi. Later on, she helped establish the National Women's Political Caucus, fighting for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and child care and equal pay legislation. She also was instrumental in helping to nominate Geraldine Ferraro for the Vice Presidential slot on the 1984 Democratic ticket.

"We celebrate this well deserved honor with Millie Jeffrey. It is reassuring that her dedication to community service and matters of social justice has not gone unnoticed," said OWU President Thomas Courtice.