Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Minnie Joycelyn Elders (born August 13, 1933) was the United States Surgeon General from September 8, 1993 to December 31, 1994, most famous for her outspokenness on sensitive issues of public health.
She was born Minnie Lee Jones in Schaal, Arkansas . In college, she changed her name to Minnie Joycelyn Lee (later using just Joycelyn). In 1952, she received her B.A. in biology from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. After working as a nurse's aid in a Veterans Administration hospital in Milwaukee for a period, she joined the United States Army in May, 1953. During her 3 years in the Army, she was trained as a physical therapist. She then attended the University of Arkansas Medical School, where she obtained her M.D. degree in 1960. After completing an internship at the University of Minnesota Hospital and a residency in pediatrics at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, Elders earned an M.S. in Biochemistry in 1967.
Elders then 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.
In 1987 Governor Bill Clinton appointed Elders 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 1993 after Clinton was elected president, he appointed her United States surgeon general, making her the first African American, and the second woman, to hold the position.
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, some of which were quite unconventional. She argued for greater drug legalization, and she was a strong backer of President Clinton's plan for national health care . These actions earned her a reputation as an avid liberal.
In 1994, she was invited to speak at a United Nations conference on AIDS. She was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity, and she replied, "I think that is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." This remark caused great controversy, especially on the right wing in the United States, and prompted President Clinton to ask for her resignation.
Since leaving her post as surgeon general, she returned to the University of Arkansas Medical Center as professor of pediatrics. She is also a regular on the lecture circuit, speaking on issues related to AIDS and teen pregnancy.
- "Nobody needs to give anyone a demonstration. What we need to do is stop telling them you're going to go blind, you're going to go crazy. We need to be honest and tell them, well, it's a normal part of sexuality, and if you're going to do it, do it in private." (LA Times interview)
- Biography at surgeongeneral.gov
| Preceded by:|
Robert A. Whitney
| U.S. Surgeon General|
| Succeeded by:|
Audrey F. Manley
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