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The Secret to Change by Millie Jeffrey 2000


Distributed by Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th St., New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4980
Produced by Produced by the Educational Film Center and National Women's Education Fund
Directed by Director n/a
VHS, color, 88 min.

Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University

Millie Jeffrey, a diminutive and deceptively mild spoken woman, has been a dynamic catalyst for social change in America. “The secret to change starts with involvement,” a credo that Jeffery followed in her fight for the rights of organized labor, minorities, and women. Growing up in northern Iowa in a Roman Catholic family, she was outraged by the fact that Roman Catholics, because of strong Klan opposition, could not be elected to public office. Her revolutionary fervor was stoked when she joined the then militant YWCA in college and through the Y took a summer job in a candy factory. The working conditions were as deplorable as the management; Millie’s response was to join a trade union.

After college she became an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, working primarily in the South. This was difficult and dangerous work, and at the time not successful. With the beginning of World War II and its enormous increase of women workers, Millie Jeffrey joined the United Auto Workers and headed up the women’s department of the union. Her job--to empower women in the union. With glee she recounts the story of how the woman, who was fired from her factory job for distracting the men by wearing red slacks, was reinstated with back pay. The issue of work clothing in the auto industry was put permanently to rest.

Millie Jeffrey served as a brilliant strategist for Civil Rights Movement and the Equal Rights Movement. This dynamic woman was one of the founders of, and later president of, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and worked with dedication to ensure the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. As one veteran of the struggle said, “Millie taught us how to pick up the pieces after we were defeated.” Turning to the campaign to elect women to office, she sparked the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro as Vice-presidential candidate.

Never strident sounding or discouraged, Millie Jeffrey has been a quietly persistent force for change and a remarkable inspiration. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August of 2000, she argues that while America has made great progress, “progress is fragile. We have to keep working.” This solidly crafted documentary with its mix of interviews and archival footage highlights the life of a woman who was involved with the major social justice movements of the 20th century. Recommended for secondary school level and above and for Women’s Studies, Political Science, and Multicultural Studies programs.