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Edelman, Marian Wright 1939–

Marian Wright Edelman 1939

Attorney, administrator, social activist

Became Civil Rights Attorney

Pursued Broader Goals in D.C.

Founded the Childrens Defense Fund

Focused on Child Care and Pregnancy Prevention

Continued Crusade in Speech and Print

Struggled With Presidential Administrations

Selected writings

Sources

Marian Wright Edelman, the leading advocate for childrens rights in the United States and the founder of the Childrens Defense Fund, can trace her commitment to serve others directly back to her own child-hood in the southern United States. Her father, Arthur Wright, was a Baptist preacher who raised his five children to believe that it was their Christian duty to help others and to try to make the world a better place. Although people of color were treated unfairly in their segregated South Carolina hometown, he urged the community to follow the self-help philosophy of African-American labor leader A. Philip Randolph and do what it could for itself. Edelman remembered that when blacks were barred from the public parks in her neighborhood, her father helped build a park and roller-skating rink behind his church for them to use. That taught me, if you dont like the way the world is, you change it, she told Time. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.

Since those early days, Edelman has taken many steps toward her goal of making the world a better place, especially for the poor and for minorities. She served as a civil rights lawyer in Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s; she brought the plight of the desperately poor families of the Mississippi Delta to the attention of Senator Robert Kennedy; and she helped begin and operate a Head Start program in Mississippi, designed to give underprivileged children a boost before entering the formal education system.

Became Civil Rights Attorney

Born on June 6, 1939, in segregated Bennettsville, South Carolina, Edelman was a teenager when the Supreme Courts historic Brown v. Board of Education decision banned school segregation and ignited the fledgling civil rights movement in the United States. As reported in Parade magazine, the dying words of Arthur Wright to his daughter, then only 14 years old, were: Dont let anything get in the way of your education. In 1956 Edelman enrolled at Spelman College in Atlanta, a straightlaced, liberal arts school for black women. As the winner of a Merrill scholarship, she was able to spend her junior year abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, and then traveled the following summer to the Soviet Union under a Lisle Fellowship. That year gave me the confidence that I could navigate in the world and do just about anything, she said in the New Yorker.

At a Glance

Born on June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, SC; daughter of Arthur Jerome (a Baptist minister) and Maggie (Bowen) Wright; married Peter B. Edelman, July 14, 1968; children: Joshua, Jonah, Ezra. Education: Studied in Paris, France, and Geneva, Switzerland, 1958-59; Spelman College, BA, 1960; Yale University Law School, JD, 1963. Religion: Baptist.

Career: NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, New York City, staff attorney, 1963-64, director of office in Jackson, MS, 1964-68; Washington Research Project of Southern Center for Public Policy, partner, 1968-73; Harvard University Center for Law and Education, director, 1971-73; Childrens Defense Fund (CDF), Washington, DC, founder and president, 1973-.

Selected memberships: Board of trustees, The King Center; advisory council, Council on Foreign Relations; Yale Univ. Corp.; chair, board of trustees, Spelman Coll; board of directors, March of Dimes; board member, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; board member, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc; board member, US Committee for UNICEF; National Commission on Children.

Selected awards: Louise Waterman Wise Award, 1970; Whitney M. Young Award, 1979; leadership award, National Womens Political Caucus, 1980; Black Womens Forum Award, 1980; John W. Gardner leadership award, independent sector, 1985; Grenville Clark Prize, 1986; A. Philip Randolph Award, 1987; William P. Dawson Award, Congressional Black Caucus, 1987; Gandhi Peace Award, 1989; Murray-Green-Meany Award, AFL-ClO, 1989; Jefferson Award, American Institute for Public Service, 1991; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2000; Tipper Gore Remember the Children Award, NMHA, 2002; numerous honorary degrees.

Addresses: Office President, Childrens Defense Fund, 122 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Returning to college in 1959, Edelman plunged into the early civil rights movement. She often heard Martin Luther King, Jr., speak on the Spelman campus and helped organize other students to participate in organized sit-ins in Atlanta to protest laws of segregation. As a volunteer worker at a local office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Edelman realized that impoverished African Americans had almost no one to represent them. Instead of pursuing graduate work in Russian and entering the foreign service as she had planned, she decided to study law. I had no aptitude or interest in law. I simply thought about what was needed, she told Wallace Terry in Parade.

She was accepted at Yale Law School, where she met Bob Moses, a pioneering member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who worked from time to time with the Yale-based Northern Student Movement. He was staunchly committed to breaking the cycle of racist intimidation that denied people of color their right to vote, and he fought to increase black voter registration in Mississippi, which was then considered a dangerous place for civil rights activists to work. Regardless of the hazards, Edelman went to Mississippi on a mission to recruit and register black voters during spring break of her third year at law school.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1963, she spent one year in New York as a staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund before returning to Mississippi, where she headed the Funds Jackson office for four years. The first black woman lawyer to practice in the state, she defended many African Americans who were arrested during the voter registration efforts of the 1960s. In the summer of 1964, the Ku Klux Klan rocked the South with their brutal white supremacist acts. But Edelman learned to live with violence and fear. That summer, I very seldom got a client out of jail who had not been beaten, who didnt have broken bones or missing teeth, she told the New Yorker. One young boy I represented had been shot and killed in jail, and I had to take his parents to the funeral home to view the body. It was [one] of those watershed experiencesI had nightmares for weeks, but afterward I felt I could face anything.

Edelman also became involved in efforts to establish a Head Start program for poor children in Mississippi and helped in the fight to keep it funded year after year. At the same time, mechanization of the cotton industry had created tremendous poverty in Mississippi, but few people outside the state were aware of it. Edelman helped bring the problem to national attention when she testified before a Senate subcommittee holding a public hearing in Jackson in 1967. Later she took two of the senators, Robert Kennedy and Joseph Clark, both Democrats, on a tour of Mississippi Delta slum areas where families lived without heat, light, or running water. During this trip she became acquainted with Peter Edelman, a white lawyer of Jewish descent who was then serving as Senator Kennedys legislative assistant.

Pursued Broader Goals in D.C.

Edelman moved to Washington, D.C., in 1968. Peter was one reason, she told Terry in Parade within months the couple was marriedbut Edelman also knew that she could be more effective in her quest for social justice if she were based in the nations capital. That same year, the United States was sent into a tailspin by the deaths of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Kennedy, both at the hands of assassins.

Shortly after Edelman relocated to Washington, Kings Poor Peoples Campaigna mass demonstration for social and economic equityarrived in the capital with plans of carrying on their slain leaders work. Their shock and grief over Kings death, combined with a lack of Washington savvy, made it impossible for the group to coordinate their crusade. Edelman, who had learned the Washington ropes through her work for Head Start, stepped in to help pull the campaign together. She also began working on other important issues, like child care legislation, and laid the foundation for the establishment a few years later of the Childrens Defense Fund.

The Edelmans went on to have three sons and instilled in them a sense of pride in the richness of their mixed racial background and a deep respect for both Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Raising three children while pursuing a very demanding vocation has given Edelman a personal perspective on the problems of working parents. I who have everything am hanging in there by my fingernails, she told Ms. I dont know how poor women manage.

Edelmans work to help poor women manage a little more easily intensified in the early 1970s. In 1971 she helped put together a broad coalition of groups in support of a comprehensive child development bill. It sailed through both the U.S. House and the Senate but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon. Although Edelman was disappointed, she claimed that the effort marked an important beginning for her. She had been struggling for years to get more federal help for the poor and minorities. But the child care issue helped her realize that by focusing on the needs of childrenall childrenshe could cut across class and race to gain broader support. I was absolutely shattered [by the veto], she told the New Yorker. But that whole experience was very useful to me. Id learned the importance of being highly specific in my goals. Id got the idea that children might be a very effective means for broadening the base for change. The country was tired of the concerns of the sixties. When you talked about poor people or black people, you faced a shrinking audience.

Founded the Childrens Defense Fund

In 1973 Edelman founded the Childrens Defense Fund (CDF) to protect the interests of the countrys children. Supported entirely by private foundations, the CDF studies and documents conditions affecting children and lobbies intensively for legislation it believes will help them. Through the CDF, Edelman called attention to many issues on the national agenda that had previously been ignoredfrom foster care to teen pregnancy to child care. She has also expressed many of her views in her books Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change, and The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours.

Edelman has been consulted by both lawmakers and journalists on virtually any issue relating to children. Senator Edward Kennedy has called her the 101st senator on childrens issues. She has real power in congress, and uses it brilliantly, Kennedy told Time. One of the sources of Edelmans credibility is the CDFs respected documentation of the status of American children. Many find it hard to argue with the organizations overwhelming statistics. According to the CDF, one-fifth of all American childrentwelve and a half millionlive in poverty. If recent trends continue, Edelman was quoted as saying in Parade in 1993, by the end of the century, poverty will overtake one in every four children.

Child psychiatrist Robert Coles commented on the unique qualities of the CDF in the New Yorker: Of course, this country has always been fascinated by children because of its own youthfulness and hopefulness. But she [Edelman] educates us about them. Coles continued, She organizes a body of knowledgestatistical, investigative, observational and analyticand she puts it together in astonishing ways. One of the major achievements of the Childrens Defense Fund is its documentation. Theres a faith in knowledge that the truth will somehow prevail, and so they are constantly educating us.

Although the administrations of presidents Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter were often opposed to increased spending for social services, Edelman lobbied, often successfully, for more support for the handicapped, Head Start programs, foster care, and health and nutrition for poor women and children. Congress did enact a child welfare bill in 1980, but when other programs for poor families were slashed under President Ronald Reagan, Edelman struggled to at least keep fundamental legislation in place.

In the mid-1980s, as poverty and homelessness increased, Congress began to restore some funding for social programs. In 1984 the CDF successfully lobbied for increased Medicaid coverage for poor children. On this, as on many other issues, Edelman argued for the importance of what she called preventive investment: One dollar up front prevents the spending of many dollars down the road, she explained in Ms. In this case, she showed that increasing health services to children leads to lower doctor and hospital bills later on.

Focused on Child Care and Pregnancy Prevention

In the late 1980s Edelman felt the United States was ready to address the child care issue. After consulting with 170 groups all over the country, the CDF put together a multibillion-dollar program that would put some money toward helping low and moderate income families pay for child care and some money toward improving child care for all families. It also established strict health, safety, and quality guidelines. Although the bill had wide support, it foundered in the last days of the Reagan administration and was reintroduced in the 101st Congress.

Edelmans concerns about child welfare extend to the rampant problem of teen pregnancy, which plays a major role, she says, in perpetuating poverty. I saw from our own statistics that fifty-five and a half percent of all black babies were bom out of wedlock, a great many of them to teenage girls, she said in the New Yorker. It just hit me over the headthat situation insured black poverty for the next generation. To combat the problem, which affects proportionately more black teens, but many more white teens overall, the CDF has sponsored an annual pregnancy prevention conference that brings together social workers and community and church leaders from all over the country. By emphasizing pregnancy prevention, the group has sidestepped the issue of abortion and attracted broad support. The CDF has also tried to reach teens and their parents through publicity campaigns. One of the organizations posters featured a pregnant teenage girl and asked the question, Will your child learn to multiply before she learns to subtract?

On all these issues, from child care to teen pregnancy to Head Start, Edelman has earned a reputation not only for concern and vision, but for formidable political skill as well. Peter Edelman, himself a Georgetown University law professor, told the New Yorker that his wife has an absolutely super strategic and tactical sense, a real smell for how to get things done. She understands how the system works. Shes as tough and determined as anyone can be, but always within the rules of the system. Her friend, Robert Coles, saw another side to Edelman. Theres still a kind of lovely innocence [about her], he remarked in the New Yorker. Its a mixture of gentleness and personal dignity and savvy, and maybe even southerness. She didnt fall prey to arrogance or smugness. She had good judgment, a sharp, active mind and she knew how to stay connected to the ordinary people of the region.

Continued Crusade in Speech and Print

Under Edelman, the CDF has ballooned in sizeto a staff of over 100 child care, welfare, and educational specialists, and an annual budget of approximately $9 million. More importantly, in the decades since its founding, the agency has become a central organ of hope for the 13.4 million American children who live in poverty. Possessing the commitment of a missionary and the tactical skills of a seasoned Washington insider, Edelman, as a voice of conscience, has challenged politicians and everyday citizens to make good on their professed dedication to the well-being of the nations youth.

In Edelmans eyes, ignorance is the explanation for the empty lip service paid to an issue as critical as child welfare. Theres ignorance in people who just dont know that we have a national child emergency, she told Black Enterprise. And there are a lot of people who are conveniently ignorantthey dont want to know. Edelmans educational crusade, involving her tactical placement of the CDF at the center of many high-profile policy debates, has been a battle against common yet mistaken assumptions that threaten many of the CDFs basic initiatives. Edelman, for example, must frequently tell people that the majority of poor children in the United States are white and from rural and suburban areas, thus correcting the impression that her agencys programs benefit only inner-city blacks on welfare. To those who loudly bemoan the throwing of public funds at social programs, Edelman answered that it is wiser to spend some money on preventive medicine, such as prenatal care, rather than huge amounts on the treatment of low-birth-weight babies whose parents may not be able to foot the hospital bills.

Most of Edelmans child-betterment sermons have been delivered in Washington, where her faith in government has endured despite years of cuts to many of the CDFs pet programs. Speaking on the benefits of government spending, notably President Lyndon Johnsons Great Society domestic programs of the 1960s, Edelman was quoted in the New York Times as saying, The fact is we made dramatic progress in the 1960s in eradicating hunger and improving the health status of children, and then we just stopped trying. Her attempts to re-energize this public sector activism were rewarded in 1990 with the passage of a child care bill through Congress and in 1992 with a $200 million boost for Head Start funding. The child care go-around spawned a controversy involving Edelman, who publicly lambasted two representatives for, in her view, self-servingly leading a war against the legislation. This bitter attack, according to some observers, weakened the CDFs effectiveness, but Edelman countered, saying her agency, unlike other lobbying organizations, represents a silent constituencychildrenthat is too precious for compromises and political games.

As much as Edelman understood her role as a government prod, she was aware that politics can never deliver all the answers, particularly in the area of child rearing, which is well beyond the bounds of legislation. In this vein, she has urged parents to reevaluate the messages they teach their children and to pay keen attention to the cultural signalsthe images of sex and violence on television, for examplethat frame the mindset of children and therefore play a central role in the development of the adults of tomorrow. I think weve had a breakdown in values in all of our society, she noted in Newsweek. It is as a celebratory ode to family that Edelman wrote her 1992 bestseller The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours. Hailed as a profound and moving book by Library Journal reviewer Angela Washington-Blair, the slim volume is a doctrinal overview of the moral values Edelman absorbed as a childbeliefs that have endured through her experiences as a mother and powerbroker. In it, she warns that the 1990s struggle is for Americas conscience and futurea future that is being determined right now in the bodies and minds and spirits of every American child.

Struggled With Presidential Administrations

When Bill Clinton was elected U.S. president, it was understood that Edelman, as a friend and intellectual soulmate of First Lady Hillary Clinton (who had earlier served as chairman of the CDF), would command a level of attention within the new administration that had been absent during the tenures of presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. There were rumors that Edelman would join the cabinet, but she was quick to reaffirm her role as an advocate who relishes her independence. I need to work outside government, on my own, she was quoted as saying in the New York Times. I love what I do, and I think I am making a difference.

In 1992 the CDF began its Leave No Child Behind campaign. The goals covered full-funding of Head Start, proper medical insurance for every child and pregnant mother, and vaccinations for every child. The campaign also included an expanded childrens tax credit for parents.

Edelman organized the Stand for Children march in 1996. More than 200,000 parents and children marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to protest the neglect of children in the worlds richest country. Such organizations as the NAACP, the March of Dimes, the Salvation Army, the National Urban League, and others supported the event. Actors Cicely Tyson, Lynn Whitfield, and Malik Yoba, along with author Cornel West and model Iman also made appearances to show their support. Edelman later commented in Ebony that the event was an attempt to give children a new visibility and to show the support and breadth of support in every state in the nation, from every race and faith and age and income group weve got a movement going to leave no child behind.

Interviewed by The Christian Century in 1998, Edelman commented on the U.S. need for improved child day care. Obviously, the best thing for children is parents who can afford to stay at home. But most of the parents who are out in the labor force are working because they would be in poverty if they didnt, Edelman explained. Because of this reality, she argued, it is vital that we make sure every child whose parent has to work has safe, high-quality, affordable care. To this end, the CDF set the following goals: 1) work to see that at least $20 billion in additional money is committed to improving child day care by putting the money into a child care grant fund that would help parents afford day care, 2) stress the importance of quality day care and training for care givers, and 3) work for increased government funding of after-school and summer programs.

In the same interview, Edelman also criticized the welfare legislation that the Clinton administration created. This legislation cut $54 billion from such programs as food stamps and child and family nutrition. Im not trying to defend the former welfare system, Edelman said. But Im for ending child poverty as we know it, not just for ending welfare as we know it. The CDF developed a volunteer program to document the effects of this legislation, hoping to discover if those who left the welfare program now had jobs, health care, and child care.

Edelman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country, in 2000. President Bill Clinton, who presented the award, compared Edelman to ground-breaking opera singer Marian Anderson. Like her namesake, Marians voice is always strong and true, singing that we are all children of God and, therefore, must protect all our children, Clinton was quoted as saying in Jet.

In 2002 President George W. Bush, who had co-opted the CDFs Leave No Child Behind slogan during his 2000 presidential campaign, unveiled his budget proposal. Edelman, along with Senators Ted Kennedy and Christopher Dodd spoke out against the presidents proposed cuts to the Head Start program. The plan would leave millions of children behind without safe, affordable, quality child care when parents work, Edelman wrote in the New Catholic Reporter. The presidents proposal also included a $1.6 billion tax cut, of which Edelman was also critical. We want every child to reach their full potential, Edelman was quoted as saying in U.S. Newswire, but having poor children subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy is unacceptable.

Edelman published Im Your Child, God: Prayers for Children and Teenagers in 2002. The book, Edelman noted in the preface, according to Black Issues Book Review, was intended for those who need stronger inner anchors and spiritual grounding as they face a world that is too materialistic, too violent, too busy, too noisy, too secular. Black Issues Book Review noted that the book answers many of the serious questions that young people face in trying to understand religious faith.

Selected writings

Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change, Harvard University Press, 1987.

The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, Beacon, 1992.

Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children, Beacon Press, 1995.

Lanterns: a Memoir of Mentors, Beacon Press, 1999.

Im Your Child, God: Prayers for Children and Teenagers, Hyperion Books For Children, 2002.

Sources

Books

Whos Who Among African Americans, 16th edition, Gale, 2003.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, May 1992, p. 67.

Black Issues Book Review, January-February 2003, p. 71.

Black Issues in Higher Education, May 10, 2001, p. 8.

Christian Century, July 15, 1998, p. 682.

Christianity Today, March 17, 1989, p. 35.

Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 1987, p. 27; May 30, 1989, p. 19.

Ebony, July 1987, p. 60; August 1988, p. 128; August 1996, p. 118.

Essence, September 1980, p. 70; May 1988, p. 65.

Glamour, December 1990, p. 96.

Jet, August 28, 2000, p. 22.

Library Journal, May 1, 1992, p. 103.

Mental Health Weekly, June 10, 2002, p. 6.

Mother Jones, June 1990, p. 6; May/June 1991, p. 31.

Ms., July/August 1987, p. 98.

Nation, July 24-31, 1989.

National Catholic Reporter, August 2, 2002, p. 25.

Newsweek, June 8, 1992, p. 27; February 15, 1993, p. 20.

New York Review of Books, December 3, 1987, p. 26.

New York Times, January 5, 1990, p. A20; January 29, 1991, p. A18; May 19, 1991, sec. 1, p. 28; October 8, 1992, p. C1.

New York Times Book Review, June 7, 1987, p. 12.

New Yorker, March 27, 1989, p. 48.

Parade, February 14, 1993, p. 4.

People, July 6, 1992, p. 101.

Rolling Stone, December 10-24, 1992, p. 126.

Time, March 23, 1987, p. 27.

U.S. News & World Report, March 26, 1990, p. 22.

U.S. Newswire, February 27, 2003.

On-line

Library of Congress, www.loc.gov (October 7, 2003).

Cathleen Collins Lee, Isaac Rosen, and Jennifer M. York

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Edelman, Marian Wright 1939–

Marian Wright Edelman 1939

Attorney, administrator, social activist

At a Glance

From Mississippi to Washington, D.C.

Founded the Childrens Defense Fund

Focused on Child Care and Pregnancy Prevention

The 1990s and Beyond

Close Ties to Clinton Administration

Selected writings

Sources

Marian Wright Edelman, the leading advocate for children in the United States and the founder of the Childrens Defense Fund, can trace her commitment to serve others directly back to her own childhood in the southern United States. Her father, Arthur Wright, was a Baptist preacher who raised his five children to believe that it was their Christian duty to help others and to try to make the world a better place. Although people of color were treated unfairly in their segregated South Carolina hometown, he urged the community to follow the self-help philosophy of African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph and do what it could for itself. Edelman remembers that when blacks were barred from the public parks in her neighborhood, her father helped build a park and roller-skating rink behind his church for them to use. That taught me, if you dont like the way the world is, you change it, she told Time. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.

Since those early days, Edelman has taken many steps toward her goal of making the world a better place, especially for the poor and for minorities. She served as a civil rights lawyer in Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s; she brought the plight of the desperately poor families of the Mississippi Delta to the attention of Senator Robert Kennedy; and she helped begin and operate a Head Start program in Mississippi, designed to give underprivileged children a boost before entering the formal education system.

Born in 1939 in segregated Bennettsville, South Carolina, Edelman was a teenager when the Supreme Courts historic Brown v. Board of Education decision banned school segregation and ignited the fledgling civil rights movement in the United States. As reported in Parade magazine, the dying words of Arthur Wright to his daughter, then only 14 years old, were: Dont let anything get in the way of your education. In 1956, Edelman enrolled at Spelman College in Altanta, a straightlaced, liberal arts school for black women. As the winner of a Merrill scholarship, she was able to spend her junior year abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, and then traveled the following summer to the Soviet Union under a Lisle Fellowship. That year gave me the confidence that I could navigate in the world and do just about anything, she said in the New Yorker.

Returning to college in 1959, Edelman plunged into the early civil rights movement. She often heard Martin Luther King, Jr., speak on the Spelman campus and helped organize other students to participate in sit-ins in Atlanta to protest laws of

At a Glance

Born June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, SC; daughter of Arthur Jerome (a Baptist minister) and Maggie (Bowen) Wright; married Peter B. Edelman (an attorney and professor of law), July 14, 1968; children: Joshua, Jonah, Ezra. Education: Studied in Paris, France, and Geneva, Switzerland, 195859; Spelman College, B.A., 1960; received law degree from Yale University Law School, 1963. Religion: Baptist.

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, New York City, staff attorney, 196364, director of office in Jackson, MS, 196468; partner in Washington Research Project of Southern Center for Public Policy, 196873; director of Harvard University Center for Law and Education, 197173; Childrens Defense Fund (CDF), Washington, DC, founder, 1973, and president, 1973. Member of numerous professional and civic organizations.

Selected awards: Louise Waterman Wise Award, 1970; Whitney M. Young Award, 1979; leadership award from National Womens Political Caucus, 1980; Black Womens Forum Award, 1980; MacArthur fellow, 1985; Martha May Eliot Award from American Public Health Association, 1985; John W. Gardner leadership award, independent sector, 1985; Grenville Clark Prize, 1986; A. Philip Randolph Award, 1987; William P. Dawson Award from Congressional Black Caucus, 1987; Ronald McDonald Childrens Charities Award, 1988; Gandhi Peace Award, 1989; Fordham Stein Prize, 1989; Murray-Green-Meany Award from AFL-CIO, 1989; Frontrunner Award from Sara Lee Corporation, 1990; Jefferson Award from American Institute for Public Service, 1991; many honorary degrees.

Addresses: OfficeOffice of the President, Childrens Defense Fund, 122 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

segregation. As a volunteer worker at a local office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Edelman realized that impoverished African Americans had almost no one to represent them. Instead of pursuing graduate work in Russian and entering the foreign service as she had planned, she decided to study law. I had no aptitude or interest in law. I simply thought about what was needed, she told Wallace Terry in Parade.

She was accepted at Yale Law School, where she met Bob Moses, a pioneering member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who worked from time to time with the Yale-based Northern Student Movement. He was staunchly committed to breaking the cycle of racist intimidation that denied people of color their right to vote, and he fought to increase black voter registration in Mississippi, which was then considered a dangerous place for civil rights activists to work. Regardless of the hazards, Edelman went to Mississippi on a mission to recruit and register black voters during spring break of her third year at law school.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1963, she spent one year in New York as a staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund before returning to Mississippi, where she headed the funds Jackson office for four years. The first black woman lawyer to practice in the state, she defended many African Americans who were arrested during the voter registration efforts of the 1960s. In the summer of 1964, the Ku Klux Klan rocked the South with their brutal white supremacist acts. But Edelman learned to live with violence and fear. That summer, I very seldom got a client out of jail who had not been beaten, who didnt have broken bones or missing teeth, she told the New Yorker. One young boy I represented had been shot and killed in jail, and I had to take his parents to the funeral home to view the body It was [one] of those watershed experiencesI had nightmares for weeks, but afterward I felt I could face anything.

Edelman also became involved in efforts to establish a Head Start program for poor children in Mississippi and helped in the fight to keep it funded year after year. At the same time, mechanization of the cotton industry had created tremendous poverty in Mississippi, but few people outside the state were aware of it. Edelman helped bring the problem to national attention when she testified before a Senate subcommittee holding a public hearing in Jackson in 1967. Later she took two of the senators, Robert Kennedy and Joseph Clark, both Democrats, on a tour of Mississippi Delta slum areas where families lived without heat, light, or running water. During this trip she became acquainted with Peter Edelman, a white, Jewish lawyer who was then serving as Senator Kennedys legislative assistant.

From Mississippi to Washington, D.C.

Edelman moved to Washington, D.C., in 1968. Peter was one reason, she told Terry in Parade within months the couple was marriedbut Edelman also knew that she could be more effective in her quest for social justice if she were based in the nations capital. That same year, the United States was sent into a tailspin by the deaths of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Kennedy, both at the hands of assassins.

Shortly after Edelman relocated to Washington, Kings Poor Peoples Campaigna mass demonstration for social and economic equityarrived in the capital with plans of carrying on their slain leaders work. Their shock and grief over Kings death, combined with a lack of Washington savvy, made it impossible for the group to coordinate their crusade. Edelman, who had learned the Washington ropes through her work for Head Start, stepped in to help pull the campaign together. She also began working on other important issues, like child care legislation, and laid the foundation for the establishment a few years later of the Childrens Defense Fund.

The Edelmans went on to have three sons and instilled in them a sense of pride in the richness of their mixed racial background and a deep respect for both Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Raising three children while pursuing a very demanding vocation has given Edelman a personal perspective on the problems of working parents. I who have everything am hanging in there by my fingernails, she told Ms. I dont know how poor women manage.

Edelmans work to help poor women manage a little more easily intensified in the early 1970s. In 1971, she helped put together a broad coalition of groups in support of a comprehensive child development bill. It sailed through both the U.S. House and the Senate but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon. Although Edelman was disappointed, she claimed that the effort marked an important beginning for her. She had been struggling for years to get more federal help for the poor and minorities. But the child care issue helped her realize that by focusing on the needs of childrenall childrenshe could cut across class and race to gain broader support. I was absolutely shattered [by the veto], she told the New Yorker. But that whole experience was very useful to me. Id learned the importance of being highly specific in my goals. Id got the idea that children might be a very effective means for broadening the base for change. The country was tired of the concerns of the sixties. When you talked about poor people or black people, you faced a shrinking audience.

Founded the Childrens Defense Fund

In 1973 Edelman founded the Childrens Defense Fund (CDF) to protect the interests of the countrys children. Supported entirely by private foundations, the CDF studies and documents conditions affecting children and lobbies intensively for legislation it believes will help them. Through the CDF, Edelman called attention to many issues on the national agenda that had previously been ignoredfrom foster care to teen pregnancy to child care. She has also expressed many of her views in her books Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change and The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours.

Edelman is consulted by both lawmakers and journalists on virtually any issue relating to children. Senator Edward Kennedy has called her the 101st senator on childrens issues. She has real power in congress, and uses it brilliantly, Kennedy told Time. One of the sources of Edelmans credibility is the CDFs respected documentation of the status of American children. Many find it hard to argue with the organizations overwhelming statistics. According to the CDF, one-fifth of all American childrentwelve and a half millionlive in poverty. If recent trends continue, Edelman was quoted as saying in Parade in 1993, by the end of the century, poverty will overtake one in every four children.

In addition, the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates among the 20 leading industrialized countries. And every year almost half a million teenage girls give birth. As child psychiatrist Robert Coles told the New Yorker, Edelman has built up a major American institution that is sui generis [unique]. Of course, this country has always been fascinated by children because of its own youthfulness and hopefulness. But she educates us about them. She organizes a body of knowledgestatistical, investigative, observational and analyticand she puts it together in astonishing ways. One of the major achievements of the Childrens Defense Fund is its documentation. Theres a faith in knowledge that the truth will somehow prevail, and so they are constantly educating us.

Although the administrations of presidents Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter were often opposed to increased spending for social services, Edelman lobbied, often successfully, for more support for the handicapped, Head Start programs, foster care, and health and nutrition for poor women and children. Congress did enact a child welfare bill in 1980, but when other programs for poor families were slashed under President Ronald Reagan, Edelman struggled to at least keep fundamental legislation in place.

In the mid- 1980s, as poverty and homelessness increased, Congress began to restore some funding for social programs. In 1984 the CDF successfully lobbied for increased Medicaid coverage for poor children. On this, as on many other issues, Edelman argued for the importance of what she calls preventive investment: One dollar up front prevents the spending of many dollars down the road, she explained in Ms. In this case, she showed that increasing health services to children leads to lower doctor and hospital bills later on.

Focused on Child Care and Pregnancy Prevention

In the late 1980s Edelman felt the United States was ready to address the child care issue. After consulting with 170 groups all over the country, the CDF put together a multibillion-dollar program that would put some money toward helping low and moderate income families pay for child care and some money toward improving child care for all families. It also established strict health, safety, and quality guidelines. Although the bill had wide support, it foundered in the last days of the Reagan administration and was reintroduced in the 101st Congress.

Edelmans concerns about child welfare extend to the rampant problem of teen pregnancy, which plays a major role, she says, in perpetuating poverty. I saw from our own statistics that fifty-five and a half percent of all black babies were born out of wedlock, a great many of them to teenage girls, she said in the New Yorker. It just hit me over the headthat situation insured black poverty for the next generation. To combat the problem, which affects proportionately more black teens, but many more white teens overall, the CDF has sponsored an annual pregnancy prevention conference that brings together social workers and community and church leaders from all over the country. By emphasizing pregnancy prevention, the group has sidestepped the issue of abortion and attracted broad support. The CDF has also tried to reach teens and their parents through publicity campaigns. One of the organizations posters featured a pregnant teenage girl and asked the question, Will your child learn to multiply before she learns to subtract?

On all these issues, from child care to teen pregnancy to Head Start, Edelman has a reputation not only for concern and vision, but for formidable political skill as well. Peter Edelman, himself a Georgetown University law professor, told the New Yorker that his wife has an absolutely super strategic and tactical sense, a real smell for how to get things done. She understands how the system works. Shes as tough and determined as anyone can be, but always within the rules of the system. Her friend Robert Coles sees another side to Edelman. Theres still a kind of lovely innocence [about her], he remarked in the New Yorker. Its a mixture of gentleness and personal dignity and savvy, and maybe even southerness. She didnt fall prey to arrogance or smugness. She had good judgment, a sharp, active mind and she knew how to stay connected to the ordinary people of the region.

The 1990s and Beyond

Under Edelman, the CDF has ballooned in sizeto a staff of over 100 child care, welfare, and educational specialists, and an annual budget of approximately $9 million. More importantly, in the decades since its founding, the agency has become a central organ of hope for the 13.4 million American children who live in poverty. Possessing the commitment of a missionary and the tactical skills of a seasoned Washington insider, Edelman, as a voice of conscience, has challenged politicians and everyday citizens to make good on their professed dedication to the well-being of the nations youth.

In Edelmans eyes, ignorance is the explanation for the empty lip service paid to an issue as critical as child welfare. Theres ignorance in people who just dont know that we have a national child emergency, she told Black Enterprise. And there are a lot of people who are conveniently ignorantthey dont want to know. Edelmans educational crusade, involving her tactical placement of the CDF at the center of many high-profile policy debates, has been a battle against common yet mistaken assumptions that threaten many of the CDFs basic initiatives. Edelman, for example, must frequently tell people that the majority of poor children in the United States are white and from rural and suburban areas, thus correcting the impression that her agencys programs benefit only inner-city blacks on welfare. To those who loudly bemoan the throwing of public funds at social programs, Edelman answers that it is wiser to spend some money on preventive medicine, such as prenatal care, rather than huge amounts on the treatment of low-birth-weight babies whose parents may not be able to foot the hospital bills.

Most of Edelmans child-betterment sermons have been delivered in Washington, where her faith in government has endured despite years of cuts to many of the CDFs pet programs. Speaking on the benefits of government spending, notably President Lyndon Johnsons Great Society domestic programs of the 1960s, Edelman was quoted in the New York Times as saying, The fact is we made dramatic progress in the 1960s in eradicating hunger and improving the health status of children, and then we just stopped trying. Her attempts to re-energize this public sector activism were rewarded in 1990 with the passage of a child care bill through Congress and in 1992 with a $200 million boost for Head Start funding. The child care go-around spawned a controversy involving Edelman, who publicly lambasted two representatives for, in her view, self-servingly leading a war against the legislation. This bitter attack, according to some observers, weakened the CDFs effectiveness, but Edelman countered, saying her agency, unlike other lobbying organizations, represents a silent constituencychildrenthat is too precious for compromises and political games.

As much as Edelman understands her role as a government prod, she is aware that politics can never deliver all the answers, particularly in the area of child rearing, which is well beyond the bounds of legislation. In this vein, she has urged parents to reevaluate the messages they teach their children and to pay keen attention to the cultural signalsthe images of sex and violence on television, for examplethat frame the mindset of children and therefore play a central role in the development of the adults of tomorrow. I think weve had a breakdown in values in all of our society, she noted in Newsweek. It is as a celebratory ode to family that Edelman wrote her 1992 bestseller The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours. Hailed as a profound and moving book by Library Journal reviewer Angela Washington-Blair, the slim volume is a doctrinal overview of the moral values Edelman absorbed as a childbeliefs that have endured through her experiences as a mother and powerbroker. In it, she warns that the 1990s struggle is for Americas conscience and futurea future that is being determined right now in the bodies and minds and spirits of every American child.

Close Ties to Clinton Administration

When Bill Clinton was elected U.S. president, it was understood that Edelman, as a friend and intellectual soulmate of First Lady Hillary Clinton (who had earlier served as chairman of the CDF), would command a level of attention within the new administration that had been absent during the tenures of presidents Bush and Reagan. There were rumors that Edelman would join the cabinet, but she was quick to reaffirm her role as an advocate who relishes her independence. I need to work outside government, on my own, she was quoted as saying in the New York Times. I love what I do, and I think I am making a difference.

Edelman has estimated that it may cost as much as $47 billion to accomplish the goals articulated by the CDF in its Leave No Child Behind campaign, which began in 1992. The goals cover full-funding of Head Start, proper medical insurance for every child and pregnant mother, vaccinations for every child, and an expanded childrens tax credit for parents.

Although the issues and the strategies have changed somewhat over the years, Edelman has maintained through it all the sense of commitment and hope with which she was raised. Through the CDF, she continues to address a wide range of issues relating to childrenand to insist that the needs of children be taken seriously. Investing in [children] is not a national luxury or a national choice, she told the New Yorker. Its a national necessity. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you dont say you cant afford to fix it while youre building astronomically expensive fences to protect it from outside enemies. The issue is not are we going to payits are we going to pay now, up front, or are we going to pay a whole lot more later on.

Selected writings

Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change, Harvard University Press, 1987.

The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, Beacon, 1992.

Sources

Black Enterprise, May 1992, p. 67.

Christianity Today, March 17, 1989, p. 35.

Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 1987, p. 27; May 30, 1989, p. 19.

Ebony, July 1987, p. 60; August 1988, p. 128.

Essence, September 1980, p. 70; May 1988, p. 65.

Glamour, December 1990, p. 96.

Library Journal, May 1, 1992, p. 103.

Mother Jones, June 1990, p. 6; May/June 1991, p. 31.

Ms., July/August 1987, p. 98.

Nation, July 2431, 1989.

Newsweek, June 8, 1992, p. 27; February 15, 1993, p. 20.

New Yorker, March 27, 1989, p. 48.

New York Review of Books, December 3, 1987, p. 26.

New York Times, January 5, 1990, p. A20; January 29, 1991, p. A18; May 19, 1991, sec. 1, p. 28; October 8, 1992, p. C1.

New York Times Book Review, June 7, 1987, p. 12.

Parade, February 14, 1993, p. 4.

People, July 6, 1992, p. 101.

Rolling Stone, December 1024, 1992, p. 126.

Time, March 23, 1987, p. 27.

U.S. News & World Report, March 26, 1990, p. 22.

Cathleen Collins Lee and Isaac Rosen

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Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman (born 1939) was a lobbyist, lawyer, civil rights activist who founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 to advocate children's rights.

Marian Wright Edelman was born in Bennetsville, South Carolina, on June 6, 1939 and was named for the singer Marian Anderson. She was the youngest of five children born to Arthur Jerome Wright and Maggie Leola (Bowen) Wright. She spent her early years in Bennettsville. It was, as she described it, a small-town, socially segregated childhood. She went to racially segregated public schools, but excelled academically. She took piano and voice lessons and became a drum majorette in her high school band.

Beginnings of Her Advocacy

Edelman's quest for political, economic, and social rights and justice has its beginnings in her childhood. The elder Wrights instilled in their children a strong sense of service to others by their words and deeds. Indeed, as Edelman wrote, "Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time." She was expected to help out with chores at the nearby Wright Home For the Aged, the first such institution for African-Americans in South Carolina, which her father founded and her mother ran. "The only time my father wouldn't give me a chore was when I was reading, so I read a lot," she said of those years.

When she was 14-years-old, her father died after suffering a heart attack. "The last thing he said to me before he died was, 'Don't let anything get between you and your education,"' she said. Driven by these words, she went to Spelman College, an historic African-American institution for women in Atlanta, Georgia. While at college, she won a Merrill scholarship to study abroad. Her search for a broad international perspective took her to classes at the Sorbonne in Paris, the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and with the help of a Lisle Fellowship, to Moscow just prior to starting her senior year.

She had planned on a career in the foreign service, but changed her plans as the events of the 1960s' civil rights movement occurred. Caught up in the African-American social consciousness of the times, she participated at sit-ins in Atlanta's City hall and was arrested. "Segregation was wrong, something to be fought against," she said. The experiences stimulated her to believe that she could contribute to social progress through the study of law. She entered Yale Law School on a scholarship after receiving her undergraduate degree in 1960. She did not love law but explained that she decided to study law "to be able to help black people, and the law seemed like a tool [I] needed."

Early Advocacy

Edelman began her career as a lawyer hired by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in New York after receiving her law degree in 1963. After one year she moved to Jackson, Mississippi, to continue her work with the association. She became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi State Bar Association. Her career changed direction after she became a lawyer for the Child Development Group in Mississippi and successfully lobbied for the restoration of Federal funds for the Mississippi Head Start programs. This started her subsequent life-long effort to lobby for children's interests.

She met Peter Benjamin Edelman, a staff assistant to Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy, while he was conducting research in Mississippi. They were married on July 14, 1968, and have three sons: Joshua Robert, Jonah Martin, and Ezra Benjamin. They moved to Washington, D.C., where he continued to work and she began to expand her work on the problem's of Mississippi's poor to the national political arena.

Edelman started the Washington Research Project of the Southern Center for Policy Research. It was created to lobby and research programs to assist children in poverty. In 1971 the Edelmans moved to Boston, where Peter served two years as vice-president of the University of Massachusetts. She directed the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. That year Time magazine named her one of the top 200 young leaders in America.

Founds CDF

Under Edelman's guidance the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) was founded in 1973. It was to become a major advocate, research, and lobbying organization designed to seek aid for children. She campaigned for a number of programs. Among these were programs to help children remain healthy, stay in school, and avoid teenage pregnancy; to prevent child abuse; and to stop drug abuse. In her words, the CDF "works with individuals and groups to change policies and practices resulting in neglect or mistreatment of millions of children."

Again the Edelmans moved as their career paths evolved. Her husband joined the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., in 1979. She relocated with her family to join him. There she continued to be president of the Children's Defense Fund, working long hours to convince government officials of the need for her children's aid programs.

When Bill Clinton was elected U.S. president in 1992, it was expected that Edelman, a friend and intellectual soul mate to First Lady Hillary Clinton, who had served as chairman of the CDF, would command a level of attention within the new administration that had been absent during the tenures of Presidents Bush and Reagan. There were even rumors that she would join the cabinet, bet she was quick to discount such rumors. "I need to work outside government, on my own," she said.

In 1992, Edelman and the CDF began its "Leave No Child Behind" campaign. She estimated that it would cost as much as $47 billion to fulfill all the goals of a fully-funded Head Start, proper medical insurance for all children and their pregnant mothers, vaccinations for every child, and an expanded children's tax credit for children. She tirelessly lobbies for these goals because she believes that "Investing in [children] is not a national luxury or a national choice. It's a national necessity. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you don't say you can't afford to fix it while you're building astronomically expensive fences to protect it from outside enemies. The issue is not are we going to pay—it's are we going to pay now, upfront, or are we going to pay a whole lot more later on."

On June 1, 1996, Edelman and the CDF held their "Stand For Children" in Washington, D.C. An estimated 200,000 supporters showed up to march in support of children and the CDF's goals. Many of Edelman's critics had previously criticized Edelman and her ideas as outdated. But with the large support she received during "Stand For Children," she demonstrated that she and the CDF are still a force to contend with in American politics.

In 1997, Edelman criticized President Clinton for his welfare reform package by warning it could lead to record numbers of uninsured children, increased child abuse, and rising firearms deaths. The CDF's "The State of America's Children Yearbook 1997" criticized the package and warned that "if America does not stand up now for its children, it will not stand strong in the new millennium."

Edelman has been widely recognized for her spirited activity as a lobbyist for her causes. She lectures, writes, and travels to convince others of the many needs facing young people. She is the author of the books, Families In Peril: An Agenda For Social Change (1987); Portrait of Inequality: Black and White Children in America (1990); The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992); and Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children (1995). She is also the author of several reports, and many articles in support of children and her causes. All the while, she stressed that she is a doer rather than a scholar. She believed that problems must be broken down and a range of strategies must be considered to achieve goals. She was less interested in forming theories than "in feeding, clothing, housing, and educating as many American children as soon as possible." She was also able to balance her hectic, social-oriented work with the demands of a family.

Further Reading

Marian Wright Edelman has written about her spiritual, family, and community values and thoughts in The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992). She described her programs and research findings and the work of the Children's Defense Fund in Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change (1987). Her biographies appear in Who's Who in America, Who's Who Among Black Americans, Notable Black American Women, Black Women in America, and African American Biographies.

Biographical information on Edelman can be found in the May 10, 1992 issue of the Washington Post and the March 15, 1997 issue of Afro-American.

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Edelman, Marian Wright

EDELMAN, MARIAN WRIGHT

During her career, marian wright edelman has appeared in Mississippi jail cells, Capitol Hill offices, and on TV talk shows, with the same objective: to help poor or disenfranchised U.S. citizens. Best known as the founder and president of the children's defense fund (CDF), Edelman is a lawyer, lobbyist, author, and mentor to former first lady, now U.S. senator, hillary rodham clinton. Edelman began her career as a civil rights attorney in the Deep South during the 1960s. While working on voter registration campaigns—and keeping demonstrators out of jail—Edelman vowed to do something about the plight of children in the United States. Improving children's lives seemed like a logical starting point for improving all of society. By the mid-1990s, Edelman's influence extended from day care centers to the Oval Office as she helped shape the future for the youngest citizens of the United States.

Edelman was born June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, a small, segregated town in South Carolina. Her father, Arthur Jerome Wright, was a Baptist minister, and her mother, Maggie Leola Wright, was the director of the Wright Home for the Aged. Named after singer Marian Anderson, Edelman recalls a childhood of hard work and high expectations. She was an outstanding student whose parents instilled in her a strong sense of purpose and social awareness. Edelman's parents extolled the virtues of self-reliance and personal initiative, and lived their own counsel when they established the Wright Home, the first African American residence for elderly people in South Carolina. Edelman's parents founded the nursing home because they saw a need and felt obliged to fill it. Given the example set by them, it is no surprise that Edelman chose a life of self-directed social activism.

After high school, Edelman attended well-respected Spelman College, in Atlanta. Edelman planned a career in the foreign service and took preparatory courses at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and at the University of Geneva, in Switzerland. After spending a summer in Moscow, Edelman returned to the United States for her senior year at Spelman. Before long, she was caught up in the emerging civil rights movement. After a campus visit by martin luther king jr., and considerable soul-searching, Edelman dropped her plans for the foreign service and joined other African Americans in the struggle for equal rights.

To make herself more valuable to the movement, Edelman decided to attend law school. After earning a degree from Yale University Law School in 1963, she became counsel for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp). In New York, Edelman received NAACP training in civil rights law for one year. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1964 and became the first African American woman ever admitted to the Mississippi bar. (At the time, Mississippi had a grand total of three African American lawyers.)

Edelman's first assignment was the Mississippi Summer Project. This was an African American voter registration drive conducted by volunteers and college students from the North. Edelman also served as the attorney for the Child Development Group of Mississippi, where one of her proudest accomplishments was helping to reinstate federal funding for Head Start, a successful program that encourages the intellectual and social development of poor, at-risk children.

When Senator robert f. kennedy toured Mississippi in 1967, Edelman showed him the wretched poverty endured by thousands of African American children. Many credit her with opening Kennedy's eyes to the reality of hunger in the United States.

In 1968, Edelman married Peter B. Edelman, a Harvard-trained lawyer who was Senator Kennedy's legislative assistant. The couple moved to Washington, D.C., where eventually they had three sons. Edelman hoped a move to the nation's capital would enable her to focus national attention on the poverty she witnessed in Mississippi.

Edelman's first job in Washington, D.C., was as congressional and federal agency liaison for the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. Also during 1968, Edelman founded the Washington Research Project, an advocacy and research group that lobbied Congress for an expansion in Head Start services. In 1971, Edelman and her family moved to Boston for her to complete a two-year stint as director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. Her husband served as vice president of the University of Massachusetts at the same time. Upon their return to Washington, D.C., in 1973, Edelman created an offshoot of her Washington Research Project, which she called the Children's Defense Fund.

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."
—Marian Wright Edelman

Edelman's CDF began as a small, nonprofit organization interested in children's issues and funded entirely by private foundation grants. In CDF's early days, Hillary Rodham Clinton worked as a staff attorney and later became a member of the CDF board of directors. In 1999, with a staff of 130 and a budget of $10 million, CDF had grown considerably in size and stature but remained committed to its original goal: providing hope and social change for the poor, neglected, and abused children in the United States. CDF conducts research, drafts legislation, lobbies, and provides educational support on issues affecting children. It has buttonholed elected officials on issues including childhood diseases and immunizations, homelessness, child abuse, education, and foster care. Edelman lobbied for a national child care bill, increases in medicaid spending, and, of course, additional spending for her cherished Head Start programs.

Edelman's productivity and stamina are legendary. In addition to lobbying, she gives an average of 50 speeches a year and has made frequent appearances on popular talk shows. Edelman has received more than 65 honorary degrees and awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the H. John Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, President bill clinton awarded Edelman the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Edelman has also been a prolific writer; among her books are Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change (1987); The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992), which sold over 1.25 million copies and appeared on the best-seller list; a children's book titled Stand for Children (1998); and I'm Your Child, God: Prayers for Children and Teenagers (2002).

In 1996, Edelman founded Stand for Children, a grassroots organization that advocates for children's rights throughout the country

with a focus on early childhood education, after-school programs, and health care. In 2000, the Children's Defense Fund took note of the fact that presidential candidate george w. bush had adopted the fund's slogan Leave No Child Behind for his campaign. In early 2003, Edelman accused the Bush administration of "waging a budget war against poor children" based on proposed tax cuts. The Children's Defense Fund later released a state-by-state report showing that states experiencing fiscal crisis were making cuts in vital child-care, early education, and after-school programs.

further readings

Children's Defense Fund (CDF). 2003. "State Budget Cuts Put Children at Risk." Available online at <www.childrensdefense.org/release030313.php> (accessed July 2, 2003).

Igus, Toyomi, ed. 1991. Book of Black Heroes. Vol. 2: Great Women in the Struggle. New York: Scholastic.

Stand for Children Website. Available online at <www.stand.org> (accessed July 2, 2003).

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