The Voice of Our Elders

The outspoken Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders, is using her "bully pulpit" to take on the tobacco companies

It didn’t take long for Jocelyn Elders, the first black and second woman to hold the position of U.S. Surgeon General, to stir up controversy. In fact, this determined woman in the uniform of a three-star admiral did it less than a year into Bill Clinton’s presidency, speaking out on drug legalization (she’s for it) and abortion rights (she wants to keep coverage in the Clinton health plan). Elders has also been just as critical of the tobacco industry as her predecessor, Reagan appointee C. Everett Koop.

Dr. Elders, a longtime Clinton protege, grew up in rural Schall, Arkansas. One of eight kids, she didn’t see a doctor herself until she was in college. After serving in the Army as a physical therapist, Elders entered the University of Arkansas under the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1960. She later became a professor of pediatrics at the medical school, and then, in 1987, was appointed by Clinton as director of the Arkansas Department of Health.