Joycelyn Elders

B. Higgins asks, via e-mail, 'Whatever happened to...?'

Outspoken and uncompromising, Joycelyn Elders was the first African- American and first woman to serve as surgeon general of the United States. She was also the first to be asked to resign.

Minnie Joycelyn Jones was born to a large sharecropper family in Arkansas in 1933. At age 15, Elders received a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. There she saw a doctor for the first time and met Edith Jones, the first black woman to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School (UAMS). Elders credits these experiences with inspiring her career choice.

After a bachelor's degree in 1952, Elders spent 20 years climbing the rungs of the medical profession. She graduated from UAMS with her MD in 1960 and married Oliver Elders the same year. From 1971, she served on the UAMS faculty.

In 1987, then-Gov. Bill Clinton appointed her director of the Arkansas Department of Health. When he became president in 1992, Clinton nominated her to be his surgeon general.

She was approved. But during her brief tenure, her advocacy of sex education and the distribution of condoms angered conservatives. Her statement that legalizing drugs should be studied for its potential to reduce crime angered Clinton. In December 1994, Elders was asked to resign after making recommendations about sex education that many found objectionable.

Elders returned to teaching at UAMS. She is also on the lecture circuit.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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