Joycelyn Elders, or Minnie Joycelyn Jones, was born August 13, 1933, in Schaal, Arkansas. In January 1993, Bill Clinton appointed her as the United States Surgeon General, making her the first African American and the second woman to hold the position.
Elders was the first of eight children born into a family of sharecroppers. At age 15, she entered Philander Smith College, a historically black liberal arts college in Little Rock, Arkansas. She went on a scholarship from the United Methodist Church.
That year she saw a doctor for the first time in her life and subsequently determined to become a physician herself. In 1952 she graduated from college after only three years. The following year she joined the army and trained as a physical therapist in Texas and served at army hospitals in San Francisco and Denver, Colorado. She entered the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock on the GI Bill in 1956, and in 1960 she was the only woman to graduate from that institution.
Also in 1960, she married Oliver Elders. Following an internship in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis (1960–61), she returned to Arkansas for a residency at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, where she rose to chief pediatric resident in 1963 and pediatric research fellow in 1964. She earned a degree in biochemistryfrom the university (M.S., 1967) and joined the faculty at the medical school in 1967, rising to full professor by 1976.