Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman (born June 6, 1939) is an American activist for children's rights. She has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. She is founder and president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund.

Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman 01.jpg
Edelman in 1994
Marian Wright

(1939-06-06) June 6, 1939 (age 81)
Alma mater
OccupationChildren's rights activist
OrganizationChildren's Defense Fund
(m. 1968)
ChildrenJoshua, Jonah, Ezra

Early yearsEdit

Marian Wright was born June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Her father was Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist minister, and her mother was Maggie Leola Bowen.[1] In 1953, her father died of a heart attack when she was 14, urging in his last words, "Don't let anything get in the way of your education."[2][3]


She went to Marlboro Training High School in Bennettsville, where she graduated in 1956 and went on to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Due to her academic achievement, she was awarded a Merrill scholarship which allowed her to travel and study abroad. She studied French civilization at the Sorbonne University and at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

For two months during her second semester abroad she studied in the Soviet Union as a Lisle Fellow. In 1959 she returned to Spelman for her senior year and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960 she was arrested along with 14 other students at one of the largest sit-ins at the Atlanta City Hall. She graduated from Spelman as valedictorian. She went on to study law and enrolled at Yale Law School where she was a John Hay Whitney Fellow, and earned a Juris Doctor in 1963. Member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[4]

Edelman received an honorary doctorate from La Salle University in May 2018.[5].


Edelman in 2010

Edelman was the first African American woman admitted to The Mississippi Bar in 1965.[6][7] She began practicing law with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Mississippi office,[8] working on racial justice issues connected with the civil rights movement and representing activists during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.[9] She also helped establish the Head Start program.[10]

Edelman moved in 1968 to Washington, D.C., where she continued her work and contributed to the organizing of the Poor People's Campaign of Martin Luther King Jr.[11] and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.[12] She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm,[13] and also became interested in issues related to childhood development and children.

In 1973, she founded the Children's Defense Fund as a voice for poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities. The organization has served as an advocacy and research center for children's issues, documenting the problems and possible solutions to children in need. She also became involved in several school desegregation cases and served on the board of the Child Development Group of Mississippi, which represented one of the largest Head Start programs in the country.[14]

As leader and principal spokesperson for the CDF, Edelman worked to persuade United States Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected. As she expresses it, "If you don't like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time."[15]

She continues to advocate youth pregnancy prevention, child-care funding, prenatal care, greater parental responsibility in teaching values and curtailing what she sees as children's exposure to the barrage of violent images transmitted by mass media. Several of Edelman's books highlight the importance of children's rights. In her 1987 book titled, Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change, Edelman stated, "As adults, we are responsible for meeting the needs of children. It is our moral obligation. We brought about their births and their lives, and they cannot fend for themselves."[16] Edelman serves on the board of the New York City-based Robin Hood Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty.

Personal lifeEdit

During Joseph S. Clark's and Robert F. Kennedy's tour of the Mississippi Delta in 1967, she met Peter Edelman, an assistant to Kennedy.[17] They married on July 14, 1968. Edelman and her husband, now a Georgetown law professor, have three children: Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra. Joshua is an educational administrator; Jonah works in education advocacy and founded Stand for Children; Ezra is a television producer and director who won an Academy Award for his documentary O.J.: Made in America.

Honors and awardsEdit

Selected worksEdit

  • Winson and Dovie Hudson's Dream. Cambridge: Harvard University. 1975. OCLC 49643782.
  • American Children and Families. Washington, D.C.: Religious Action Center. 1981. OCLC 7968448.
  • Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1987. ISBN 0-674-29228-6.
  • The Measure of Our Success. Boston: Beacon Press. 1992. ISBN 0-8070-3102-X.
  • Kids and Guns: A National Disgrace. Washington, D.C.: Educational Fund To End Handgun Violence. 1993. OCLC 32644803.
  • Guide My Feet. Boston: Beacon Press. 1995. ISBN 0-8070-2308-6.
  • Edelman, Marian Wright; Adrienne Yorinks (1998). Stand for Children. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0-7868-0365-7.
  • Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors. Boston: Beacon Press. 1999. ISBN 0-8070-7214-1.
  • The State of America's Children. Boston: Beacon. 2000. OCLC 46480964.
  • I'm Your Child, God: Prayers for Children and Teenagers. New York: Hyperion. 2002. ISBN 0-7868-0597-8.
  • I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children. New York: HarperCollins. 2005. ISBN 0-06-028051-4.
  • The Sea Is so Wide and My Boat Is so Small. New York: Hyperion. 2008. ISBN 978-1-4013-2333-2.


  1. ^ "Edelman, Marian Wright – South Carolina Encyclopedia". South Carolina Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  2. ^ Jone Johnson Lewis (2008). "Marian Wright Edelman Biography". Retrieved October 26, 2008.
  3. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman Facts". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  4. ^ Jannsson, Bruce S. (May 2, 2014). Brooks/Cole Empowerment Series: The Reluctant Welfare State (8 ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 316. ISBN 978-1285746944. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  5. ^ "La Salle University Awards Marian Wright Edelman Honorary Doctorate at 2018 Commencement". March 14, 2018.
  6. ^ Lomotey, Kofi (2009). Encyclopedia of African American Education. SAGE Publications. p. 140. ISBN 978-1412940504.
  7. ^ Lanker, Brian (August 1989). "I Dream A World". National Geographic. 176 (2): 210.
  8. ^ Serling Goldberg, Marsha; Feldman, Sonia (2013). Teachers with Class: True Stories of Great Teachers. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 38. ISBN 978-0740786877.
  9. ^ Gates Jr., Henry Louis; Brooks, Evelyn (2004). African American Lives. Oxford University Press. p. 265. ISBN 019988286X.
  10. ^ Zigler, Edward; Styfco, Sally J. (2010). The Hidden History of Head Start. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0199745500.
  11. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  12. ^ "The Poor People's Campaign". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  13. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  14. ^ Hine, Darlene Clark; Thompson, Kathleen (1999). A shining thread of hope the history of Black women in America. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 9780767901116.
  15. ^ Traver, Nancy; Ludtke, Melissa (March 23, 1987). "They Cannot Fend for Themselves That is why Marian Edelman became a top lobbyist for children". Time. Vol. 129 no. 12.
  16. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman (1939–)." African American Almanac, Lean'tin Bracks, Visible Ink Press, 1st edition, 2012. Credo Reference, Accessed 15 Jan 2018.
  17. ^ Lawson, Carol (October 8, 1992). "At Home With: Marian Wright Edelman – A Sense of Place Called Family". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Candace Award Recipients 1982–1990, p. 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  19. ^ "Jefferson Awards Foundation Past Winners". Jefferson Awards Foundation. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  20. ^ "Edelman, Marian Wright". National Women’s Hall of Fame.
  21. ^ "The Heinz Awards :: Marian Wright Edelman".
  22. ^ "2010 Honorees | National Women's History Alliance".
  23. ^ "Honorary Degrees | Whittier College". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  24. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman Library opens". U.S. Rep. John Spratt (D-SC), press release. December 24, 2001. Archived from the original on February 22, 2009. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
  25. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman Library opens". Marlboro Herald Advocate, Lynn McQueen, February 25, 2010. Archived from the original on February 22, 2009. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
  26. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients Archives | Ohio State".

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit