Dr. Audrey Forbes Manley received a music scholarship to study at Spelman College in Atlanta. She took the opportunity to expand her education and interests and moved into the sciences. She was appointed Assistant Surgeon General in 1988, and is the first African American woman to hold a position of that rank in the United States Public Health Service. In 1997 she returned to Spelman, after forty years in medicine, to serve as president of the college.
Audrey Forbes was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1934, to Ora Lee Buckhalter Forbes and Jesse Lee Forbes. She grew up in a tenant farming family in Tougaloo, Mississippi, and as the eldest of three daughters had lots of responsibilities from an early age. By the time she was nine years old, she was picking cotton to help with the family finances.
The whole family moved to Chicago, Illinois during WWII, where Forbes graduated from Wendell Phillips High School with a major in music. She received a voice scholarship to the African American school for the betterment of young women, Spelman College in Atlanta, where she majored in biology with a double minor in chemistry and maths.
Forbes graduated cum laude and accepted a scholarship to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. She finished medical school in 1959 and went on to complete her residency at Chicago's Cook County Children's Hospital, where she became the first African American woman to be appointed chief resident. She then took a series of jobs in pediatric medicine and faculty appointments at the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of California. In 1970, she married Dr. Albert E. Manley, the first Black president of her alma mater, Spelman College. The couple moved back to the South and Dr. Audrey Forbes Manley took up a position as Chief of Medical Services at Grady Memorial Hospital's Emory University Family Planning Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1976, Dr. Manley took up her first federal post, as a Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. Over the next ten years she studied sickle cell disease and other genetic illnesses, and in 1987 she earned a Master's degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. That same year she became the first African American woman appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Public Health Service, beginning a rise through the ranks, culminating in her appointments as Deputy U.S. Surgeon General in 1994 and acting U.S. Surgeon general from 1995 to 1997.
As Assistant Surgeon General, Manley directed over 6,200 commissioned corps officers of the National Health Service Corps, coordinating the provision of healthcare in underserved communities. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health, she directed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), overseeing 45,000 employees and a budget of over $22 million.
In 1997, after nearly forty years in medicine, Dr. Manley became the first alumna president of Spelman college, taking up the position held by her late husband. She is especially proud of the school's success in encouraging young women students to train for careers in the sciences. Dr. Manley retired in 2002, although she remains involved in numerous organizations, including the American Academy of family Physicians and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. In 1999 she received the Academy of Women Achievers Award from the Young Women's Christian Association. In 2002 Dr. Manley received the Distinguished Service Award from the Atlanta City Council