Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America
by Elders, Joycelyn; Chanoff, David
x, 355 pp. "Few figures on the contemporary American political landscape have been as visible and memorable, as admired and hated, as Dr. Joycelyn Elders. In her tour as Bill Clinton's surgeon general she galvanized emotions around such hot button issues as condom distribution in schools, comprehensive sex education, and abortion rights, establishing herself as a firebrand liberal crusader and favorite conservative bete noir. Her relentless candor brought public attention to her issues, infuriated her opponents, and eventually led to one of the most newsworthy firings in recent memory. Now, in Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America she shares the story of her extraordinary life, the roots of her values and the evolution of her ideas and reveals the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to her firing from the office of Surgeon General.This plainspoken and utterly candid autobiography takes readers through Elders' poverty stricken childhood in the tiny town of Schaal, Arkansas where Elders (called Minnie Lee Jones in those days) grew up in a tiny cabin with neither electricity, nor running water. A sharecropper's daughter, Joycelyn was forced to miss school during planting and harvesting seasons, yet she excelled and won a scholarship to college in Little Rock. It was there that she saw a doctor for the first time in her life and -- after a speech given by Edith Irby Jones, the University of Arkansas Medical School's first black student -- realized her vocation. When in 1956 Joycelyn entered the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, she was the sole woman in a class of one-hundred and one of only three African-Americans.Elders' inspiring public life is matched with a moving private story about which she is forthright in Joycelyn Elders, M.D. The tragedies of her life which were previously hidden are touchingly told here -- her brother Bernard's murder by a deranged man, her sister Patricia's death in an automobile accident (Patricia had been a professor of linguistics and Bernard was Arkansas' first African-American veterinarian). She speaks frankly about her husband Oliver's battle with depression, the near-catastrophic effect it had on their relationship and how, together, they triumphed over it. She openly acknowledges her son Kevin's battle with drugs while explaining the political circumstances surrounding his arrest.Elders' experience as director of Arkansas's health department was pivotal in shaping her views and her mission. As she toured the state visiting towns not unlike the one in which she was raised, she saw pregnant twelve- and thirteen-year-olds; girls abused by their fathers and grandfathers; domestic violence; malnourished infants; unmarried women with five and six children; full-term pregnant women who had never seen a doctor; sick elderly people with no way of getting to the few clinics scattered around the state. The experience transformed her. Elders fought hard to make changes and won. During her term she raised childhood immunization rates, set up sickle cell anemia screening and a comprehensive women's health program, established home hospice care, and built or renovated dozens of public health clinics, many of them in schools. When President Clinton called on her for the office of surgeon general, she was the most visible public health official in the country.The triumphs and travails of Elders' 18 months in Washington D.C., detailed here for the first time, are fascinating reading, chock-full of inside information. From the ordeal of her confirmation hearings and the frustration of having her words twisted and repeated out of context, to the final blows: the arrest of her son Kevin for selling drugs from a taped "buy" recorded several months before and saved by Clinton's political opponents for the opportune moment -- within days of her speech on legalization and her comments on masturbation which were used by her own administration to finally do her in. In Joycelyn Elders, M.D. we learn the part Hillary Clinton and Health Department Secretary Donna Shalala played in that event. Still, never afraid of a good fight, Elders did manage to do some good work during that intensely painful period negotiating for and winning additional responsibilities for the office and consolidating more real power in the position then it ever before had.Joycelyn Elders' life is as improbable as any on record, and yet it is distinctly, even archetypically American. In Joycelyn Elders, M.D. she sets the record straight, once and for all, on where she's been, and the truth as she knows it, born out of her uniquely inspiring experience."Keywords: MEDICAL MEDICINE JOYCELYN ELDERS SURGEON GENERAL UNITED STATES HISTORY BIOGRAPHY Ink stamp on front endpaper, pages toned. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996. Book Club Edition (BCE). Near Fine/Near Fine. (Inventory #: 2197333)
Literature, American & Military History, General Antiquarian
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