Joycelyn Elders

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Joycelyn Elders is an American Physician and public health official. She was the first Black woman, and the second woman to serve as the U.S. Surgeon General.

Early Life and Education

Joycelyn Elders was born on August 13, 1933, in Schaal, Arkansas. She was the eldest of 8 children, and her family worked as sharecroppers. At only 15 years old, Elders got a scholarship from United Methodist Church to attend college, and she used that scholarship to become a physician at Philander Smith College. She graduated college in just three, years, and she joined the army as a physical therapist right after that. In 1956, Elders attended the University of Arkansas Medical School. In 1960, she was the only woman, and by default, the only Black woman to graduate from there. The year of her graduation, Elders married Oliver Elders.


Elders worked as a resident at the University of Arkansas Medical Center and later became the chief pediatric resident there. In 1967, she earned her degree in biochemistry and became a professor at the University of Arkansas by 1976. In 1987, the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton appointed Elders to the office of the director of public health. There, she focused her work on reducing teen pregnancy numbers across the state. She did this by availing resources like birth control and educating teens on such topics. She also availed screenings for HIV and Breast Cancer. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Elders for U.S. Surgeon General. She won this position, becoming the first African American woman, and the second woman to hold this post. In 1995, after resigning from her position, she returned to the University of Arkansas as a professor. In 1996, Elders wrote her autobiography, Joycelyn Elders, MD. Elders retired in 1999.

Joycelyn Elders is a true scholar and hard worker who made a difference in teen pregnancy and likely inspired young doctors and nurses.