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 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. 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.”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. Edelman received an honorary doctorate from La Salle University in
was the first African American woman
admitted to The Mississippi Bar in
1965. She began practicing law with the NAACP Legal
Defense and Educational Fund‘s Mississippi office,working on racial justice issues connected with
the civil rights movement and representing activists during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of
1964. She also helped establish the Head Start program.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. and the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference. She founded the Washington Research Project, a
public interest law firm, 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.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
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.” Edelman serves on the board of the New York
City-based Robin Hood Foundation, a
charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty.