Joycelyn Elders, the former U.S. Surgeon General, was born Minnie Lee Jones in Schaal, Arkansas on August 13, 1933 to Curtis and Hailer Jones; she added the name Joycelyn when she was in college. As the eldest of eight children of sharecroppers, Joycelyn Elders experienced extreme poverty in segregated rural Arkansas. At age fifteen, Elders earned a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1952, she received a Bachelor of Science degree and a medical degree in 1960 from Philander Smith and the University of Arkansas Medical School, respectively.
Upon graduating from college in 1952, Elders enlisted in the Army and became a physical therapist. After ending her military career in 1956 and enrolling in medical school, Elders returned home and protested against local segregation. In 1957, she refused to park in the back of a drive-in theater. By 1963, Elders completed her residency and became chief pediatric resident at the University of Arkansas Medical Center. One year later, she was named pediatric research fellow for a three-year term. In 1971, she earned her second masters degree from the University of Arkansas. Also from the late l960s to 1987, Elders served the University of Arkansas as an assistant, associate, and full professor. Over this period, she published over 100 articles, primarily regarding juvenile diabetes. In 1987, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton appointed Elders as the head of the state’s health department. Upon appointment, she became the first female and African American to be director of the Department of Health in Arkansas.
During this period, she increased Arkansas school clinics and expanded sex education. Largely due to Elders’ lobbying, the Arkansas State legislature “mandated a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade course curriculum encompassing not only sex education, but instruction in hygiene, substance-abuse prevention…” During her tenure, the Arkansas teenage pregnancy rate fell below the national rate.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Elders to