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Sun, 08.13.1933

Joycelyn Elders, Physician, and Administrator born

Joycelyn Elders

*Joycelyn Elders was born on this date in 1933. She is a Black physician, chemist, and administrator.

Minnie Lee Jones (her birth name) is from Schaal, Arkansas. Her seven brothers and sisters worked in cotton fields with their sharecropper parents.  When she was 15, Elders won a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1952 and entered the army, studying physical therapy.  She enrolled in the University of Arkansas Medical School (UAMS) and received an M.D. in 1960, one of three non-white students to do so. S he married Oliver Elders that year.

She served as chief pediatric resident at the University of Arkansas Medical Center. She continued her education, receiving an M. S. in biochemistry from UAMS in 1967. Elders became an expert in pediatric diabetes and accepted a post on the UAMS faculty in 1971. (Then) Arkansas governor Bill Clinton named her state's Department of Health director in 1987.   In addition to championing liberal health-related issues, she sought to provide health care to poor areas and reduce the number of teen pregnancies. She vastly increased the number of children receiving immunizations.  Elders briefly served as the surgeon general of the United States under President Bill Clinton.

She was confirmed in September 1993 and almost immediately infuriated many conservatives due to her vocal support of sex education, the distribution of condoms in schools, abortion rights, and the medical use of marijuana.  It was her December 1994 statement that “masturbation is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” that prompted President Clinton to request her resignation.

Not all of Elders' efforts as surgeon general were controversial.  She tried to expand the number of certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants to extend health care to poor communities and recommended a tax increase on tobacco products. She returned to the University of Arkansas Medical Center as a professor of pediatrics.

In 2009 Dr. Elders teamed up with the University of Minnesota to establish the nation’s first Chair in Sexual Health Education, a fund to attract and retain outstanding, tenured sexual health education faculty in the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  In the 2013 documentary How to Lose Your Virginity, she was interviewed on her opinions regarding comprehensive sex education versus abstinence-only sex education. 

Elders wrote a book to present her side of the controversies surrounding her during her 16-month tenure as Surgeon General.  In an October 15, 2010, article, she voiced support for the legalization of marijuana.

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