Marian Wright Edelman
Edelman in 1994
Marian Wright

(1939-06-06) June 6, 1939 (age 84)
OccupationChildren's rights activist
OrganizationChildren's Defense Fund
(m. 1968)
Children3, including Jonah and Ezra

Marian Wright Edelman (née Wright; born June 6, 1939) is an American activist for civil rights and children's rights. She is the founder and president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund.[1] She influenced leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.[2]

Early years

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.[3] Marian's father encouraged her education before he died, after a heart attack in 1953, when she was 14.[4][5][6]


She went to Marlboro Training High School in Bennettsville, where she graduated in 1956, going on to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.[3]

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.[7]

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 77 other students during a sit-in at segregated Atlanta restaurants.[3] 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 Bachelor of Laws in 1963.[1] She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[8]

Edelman received an honorary doctorate from La Salle University in May 2018.[9]


Edelman in 2010

Edelman was the first African-American woman admitted to The Mississippi Bar in 1964.[10][11][3] She began practicing law with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Mississippi office,[12] working on racial justice issues connected with the civil rights movement and representing activists during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.[13] She also helped establish the Head Start program.[14]

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.[15] and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.[16] She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm,[17] and also became interested in issues related to childhood development and children.

Edelman was elected the first Black woman on the Yale board of trustees in 1971.[18]

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.[19]

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."[20] Under Edelman's leadership, the CDF also worked on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).[21]

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."[22] Edelman serves on the board of the New York City-based Robin Hood Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty.[23]

In 2020, Edelman became president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund, and Starsky Wilson began to head the organization.[2]

October 6, 2021, Mariam writes, “we must reject any leaders who for any reason play political football with our children’s lives and our nation’s future” continuing to further advocate for children.[24]

Personal life

Edelman is a member of The Links.[25]: 105 

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.[26] They married on July 14, 1968, as the third interracial couple to marry in Virginia after the state's anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States in Loving v. Virginia.[27] Edelman and her husband, now a Georgetown law professor, have three children: Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra.[28] 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 awards

Selected works

See also


  1. ^ a b "Marian Wright Edelman | Biography, Books, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Stewart, Nikita (September 3, 2020). "Marian Wright Edelman Steps Down, and a New Generation Takes Over". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Edelman, Marian Wright – South Carolina Encyclopedia". South Carolina Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  4. ^ B. A., Mundelein College; M. Div., Meadville/Lombard Theological School. "Biography of Marian Wright Edelman, Children's Rights Activist". ThoughtCo. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  5. ^ Jone Johnson Lewis (2008). "Marian Wright Edelman Biography". Retrieved October 26, 2008.
  6. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman Facts". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  7. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman". Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "La Salle University Awards Marian Wright Edelman Honorary Doctorate at 2018 Commencement". La Salle University. March 14, 2018.
  10. ^ Lomotey, Kofi (2009). Encyclopedia of African American Education. SAGE Publications. p. 140. ISBN 978-1412940504.
  11. ^ Lanker, Brian (August 1989). "I Dream A World". National Geographic. 176 (2): 210.
  12. ^ Serling Goldberg, Marsha; Feldman, Sonia (2013). Teachers with Class: True Stories of Great Teachers. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 38. ISBN 978-0740786877.
  13. ^ Gates Jr., Henry Louis; Brooks, Evelyn (2004). African American Lives. Oxford University Press. p. 265. ISBN 019988286X.
  14. ^ Zigler, Edward; Styfco, Sally J. (2010). The Hidden History of Head Start. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0199745500.
  15. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund". January 2016. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  16. ^ "The Poor People's Campaign". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  17. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman". Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  18. ^ "Yale Names 2 Women, One a Black Lawyer, to Board of Trustees". The New York Times. June 20, 1971. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  19. ^ Hine, Darlene Clark; Thompson, Kathleen (1999). A shining thread of hope the history of Black women in America. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 9780767901116.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Lifelong advocate for children Marian Wright Edelman is stepping down as president of CDF". The Clarion-Ledger. November 14, 2018. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  22. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman (1939–)". African American Almanac, Lean'tin Bracks, Visible Ink Press, 1st edition, 2012. Credo Reference. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  23. ^ a b c "Marian Wright Edelman, 2016 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership". Monticello. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  24. ^ "MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Congress, Don't Play Political Football With Children's Futures". The Washington Informer. October 6, 2021. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  25. ^ Graham, Lawrence Otis (2014). Our kind of people. [Place of publication not identified]: HarperCollins e-Books. ISBN 978-0-06-187081-1. OCLC 877899803.
  26. ^ Lawson, Carol (October 8, 1992). "At Home With: Marian Wright Edelman – A Sense of Place Called Family". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Green, Penelope (February 7, 2017). "After Two Tragedies, a Love to Bring Down Barriers". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  28. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman". Children's Defense Fund. October 2014. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  29. ^ "Candace Award Recipients 1982–1990, p. 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  30. ^ "Jefferson Awards Foundation Past Winners". Jefferson Awards Foundation. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  31. ^ "Marian Wright Edelman". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved February 22, 2022.
  32. ^ "Edelman, Marian Wright". National Women’s Hall of Fame.
  33. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  34. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved February 22, 2022.
  35. ^ "The Heinz Awards :: Marian Wright Edelman".
  36. ^ "2010 Honorees | National Women's History Alliance".
  37. ^ "Honorary Degrees | Whittier College". Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  38. ^ "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.
  39. ^ "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.
  40. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients Archives | Ohio State".
  41. ^ "Previous Prize Winners". AAPSS. June 7, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2023.

Further reading