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Honorary degree citation - Mildred Helfand Ryerson*

By: Marguerite Mendell, June 1994

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Mildred Ryerson, humanitarian, artist, activist and occupational therapist, whose belief in the creative capacity of all people has brought hope and promise to those who, because of illness and social marginalization, are otherwise excluded from active membership and participation in society.

For over sixty years, since she graduated in occupational therapy form the University of Toronto in 1931, Mildred Ryerson has helped psychiatric patients transform their lives through creative expression. Millie Ryerson observed the healing powers of arts and crafts, music, dance and theatre in her early work at the Shaker Sanitorium in Cleveland from 1932 to 1936 where she established an occupational therapy department and, working alone, saw how empowering patients to draw on their own artistic talents and gifts produced remarkable psychological and physiological responses. Toute sa vie, elle a cherché de nouvelles voies de réinsertion et défendu son idéal devant les autorités médicales, les organismes subventionnaires et les gouvernements. Comme directrice du Centre d'artisanat des femmes, qu'elle a fondé à Saint-Henri en 1992, elle a créé un espace artistique pour les femmes sans foyer, sans emploi et pour les assistées sociales. With the assistance of a group of dedicated teachers and private donors, the lives of these women have been given new meaning. Rather than insert people into the economy, which is the common strategy to address social marginalization today, the Atelier d'artisanat restores self-respect to those who have been stripped of dignity in a society increasingly unable to cope with social problems.

We also recognize and celebrate today Mildred Ryerson's many years of work with Native people. Since the early 1950's, she has established programs and opened galleries to exhibit and sell Native art; in the 1960's, she was instrumental in instituting Native representation to the World Craft Council.

Mildred Ryerson's activism in our city is legion. Community organizer, founder of the Milton Park Workshop in 1971, which later became the Atelier d'artisanat, active member of the Voice of Women, a militant "Raging Granny" are but a few of Millie's ongoing commitments to a society which she believes can be changed to respect the vast potential of all people to better their lives in a world which recognizes, values and celebrates their worth as individuals, as members of communities and as social citizens.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege, and a great personal pleasure, to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Mildred Ryerson, so that you may confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

* deceased

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