1993 American Woman Award
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional career. Under her leadership, the Washington-based CDF has become a strong national voice for children and families. The mission of the Children's Defense Fund is to Leave No Child Behind® and to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life with the support of caring families and communities.
Mrs. Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-60s when, as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1968, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People's March that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., began organizing before his death. She founded the Washington Research Project, which was the parent body of the Children's Defense Fund. For two years she served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University, and in 1973 began CDF.
Mrs. Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College, which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977. She has received many honorary degrees and awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings, which include five books: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children; a children's book titled Stand for Children; and most recently, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors, published in 1999.
Marian Wright Edelman is married to Peter Edelman, a Professor at Georgetown Law School. They have three sons: Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra.