Joycelyn Elders's Headshot

Joycelyn Elders

- Panelist Blurb

Minnie Joycelyn Elders (born Minnie Lee Jones on August 13, 1933) is an American pediatrician and public health administrator. She was a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the first African American appointed as Surgeon General of the United States. Elders is best known for her frank discussion of her views on controversial issues such as drug legalization and distributing contraception in schools. She was fired mid-term amidst controversy.

Elders has received a National Institutes of Health career development award, also serving as assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Arkansas Medical Center from 1967. She was promoted to associate professor in 1971 and professor in 1976. Her research interests focused on endocrinology, and she received certification as a pediatric endocrinologist in 1978. She became an expert on childhood sexual development. Elders received a D.Sc. degree from Bates College in 2002.

In 1987, then-Governor Bill Clinton appointed Elders as Director of the Arkansas Department of Health. Her accomplishments in this position included a tenfold increase in the number of early childhood screenings annually and almost a doubling of the immunization rate for two-year-olds in Arkansas. In 1992, she was elected President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers.

In January 1993, Bill Clinton appointed her the United States Surgeon General, making her the first African American and the second woman (following Antonia Novello) to hold the position. She was a controversial choice and a strong backer of the Clinton health care plan, so she was not confirmed until September 7, 1993. As surgeon general, Elders quickly established a reputation for controversy. Like many of the surgeons general before her, she was an outspoken advocate of a variety of health-related causes. She argued for an exploration of the possibility of drug legalization and backed the distribution of contraceptives in schools. President Clinton stood by Elders, saying that she was misunderstood.

NOTE: Bio updated on June 14, 2011.