Mildred Persinger has been one of the unsung heroines of the YWCA, both here in the United States and for women around the world. As an educated southern woman from Roanoke, Virginia, she moved to the New York area with her husband in the 1950s and soon became active with the YWCA and the feminist movement. During her 70 years with the YWCA since then, she was active in the Civil Rights movement, the March on Washington, and the planning and leadership of three World Conferences for Women that were held in Mexico in 1975, in Copenhagen in 1980, in Nairobi in 1985 and in Beijing in 1995.
In her early years at the YWCA, Mildred became interested in its advanced inter-racial work. She knew YW leaders in Harlem and became a member of the National Board of the YWCA where she also worked with the National Council of Negro Women on passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voter Registration Act. When the March on Washington was being planned, she was one of the leaders asked by Dr. King to get the YWCA to help sponsor it, and she has written vividly of that day of marching with the fear of violence which never took place, and then of moving close to hear Martin Luther King give his famous speech. As a result of her active life for women, she was then appointed to the U.S. Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in the early 1960s as well as a Committee Against Discrimination of the ACLU.
As she told a large group of international YWCA women in New York who were here in the early1970s for UN meetings, she discovered that male members of these commissions would frequently discuss feminine issues such as birth rates or worldwide fertility – or poverty problems, without any women present. Mildred was determined to end those male only conversations and she sought out all her active women friends around the world to form a coalition of Non-Governmental groups (NGOs) that led to the first international conference in Mexico City attended by 10,000 women in 1975. It was the start of the worldwide women’s movement, with issues on the table such as women’s rights and security, the world economy, South African apartheid and conflict in the Middle East. Mildred continued to work on those same issues in a 50-year career as the World YWCA’s main representative to the United Nations. She was a major catalyst in the creation of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women that led to the UN having annual NGO meetings in NYS City with some 5000 women attending from around the globe. Mildred can be credited with playing a major role in the historical development of women’s international advocacy work. This conference led to the UN having annual CSW meetings in New York City with some 5000 women attending from around the globe. Mildred can be credited with playing a major role in this background and history of our women’s international work.
In recent years, Mildred lived in Dobbs Ferry, NY, and was often consulted by many who knew her for her history of the international women’s movement. She was always delighted to see women’s rights in the forefront of UN proposals and actions. Her trunks full of records have been given to Hollins College where she graduated. She passed away November 20, 2018, but her inspiration lives on.