Audrey F. Manley, who would eventually be acting Surgeon General of the United States, was born in Jackson, Mississippi on March 5, 1934 to Ora Lee Buckhalter Forbes and Jesse Lee Forbes. In 1955, Manley earned her bachelor of arts in biology from Spelman College and then enrolled in Meharry Medical Center College from which she graduated with a medical degree in 1959. Manley completed her residency in 1963 at Cook County Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. While in residency, Manley taught pediatrics at Cook County School of Nursing. Additionally, while at this hospital, Manley became the Chief resident physician for the hospital’s pediatrics department, making her the first woman, second African American, and youngest person to hold this position at 27. Manley earned her last degree in 1987 from Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, with a master’s in Public Health.
Manley transitioned to a job at North Lawndale Neighborhood Health Center in 1965. Then, in 1967 she became the assistant medical director at Woodlawn Child Health Center. She then moved to Mt. Zion Medical Center in San Francisco, California, but continued to work within the field of pediatrics. During this time, between 1966 to 1970, Manley served on Spelman College’s Board of Trustees after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1961.
In 1970, Manley married Dr. Albert Manley who was the president of Spelman College at the time. Manley, as the “first lady” to Spelman College held many influential roles, including serving as the chair for the university’s Health Center Advisory Committee. Manley established the Spelman’s Health Career Office and organized and became a consultant for the Initiative for College Personnel in Family Planning and the Family Planning Program. Additionally, outside of Spelman College Manley held the medical director, or Chief, position for Emory University’s Family Planning Clinic within the University’s Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
Manley used this experience in education and the medical field to transfer into her work in government and policy as she took a job with the U.S. Public Health department. Her first role was a commissioned officer ranking as a Captain in 1976. Within this position, she studied sickle cell disease, which then led to her 1987 degree from Johns Hopkins University.
In 1987, Manley became the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and the first African American woman to hold this job. Then, Manley achieved the status of Rear Admiral in 1988 with the position of Assistant Surgeon General during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. She was then promoted in 1994 to Deputy U.S. Surgeon General and was the acting U.S. Surgeon General between 1995 and 1997 with President Bill Clinton’s nomination. However, in 1997 when Manley’s husband died, she moved from Washington, D.C. to Georgia and became Spelman College’s eighth president. She was the first graduate of the college to hold this position and served until retiring in 2002.
Manley held faculty positions at various universities throughout her career including the University of Chicago, University of California, and University of Illinois. She was a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Merit Scholarship Committee, and served as the U.S. Delegation to UNICEF and UNICEF/WHO Joint Committee on Health Policy from 1990 to 1993. For her achievements, Manley earned the Young Women’s Christian Association’s Academy of Women Achievers Award in 1999, and the Atlanta City Council’s appreciation with the Distinguished Service Award in 2002.