Minnie Joycelyn Elders (born Minnie Lee Jones; 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, masturbation and distributing contraception in schools. She was forced to resign in December 1994 amidst controversy as a result of her views.
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.
In 1987, then-governor Bill Clinton appointed Elders as Director of the Arkansas Department of Health, making her the first African American woman in the state to hold this position.
Some of her major accomplishments while in office include reducing the teen pregnancy rate by increasing the availability of birth control, counseling, and sex education at school-based clinics; a tenfold increase in early childhood screenings from 1988 to 1992 and a 24 percent rise in the immunization rate for two-year-olds; and expanded the availability of HIV testing and counseling services, breast cancer screenings, and better hospice care for the elderly and patients that were.
Even though Elders was a pediatric endocrinologist and a professor at one of the nation’s top medical schools, she was not immune from racism in the workplace.
During an interview, she was asked if she related to Shirley Chisholm’s statement about feeling more oppressed as a woman than as an African American, she replied saying, “I am who I am because I’m a black woman”. Elders was able to be the voice for the African American community and speak on poverty and its role in teenage pregnancy, which is a major issue within the community.
Sex education for young African American women
Elders strongly advocated sex and reproductive education, especially in African American communities.
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.
Her research interests focused on endocrinology, and she received board certification as a pediatric endocrinologist in 1978, becoming the first person in the state of Arkansas to do so. Elders received a D.Sc. degree from Bates College in 2002.
In January 1993, Bill Clinton appointed her as the United States Surgeon General, making her the first African American and the second woman (following Antonia Novello) to hold the position.
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 it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught”. This remark caused great controversy and resulted in Elders losing the support of the White House.
Since leaving her post as Surgeon General, Elders has returned to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as professor of pediatrics, and is currently professor emerita at UAMS. She is a regular on the lecture circuit, speaking against teen pregnancy.
Elders is also on the advisory board to Ro, an end-to-end service for chronic health conditions.