Marian Wright Edelman
lawyer, civil rights activist, children's advocate
Birthplace: Bennettsville, S.C.
The youngest of five children of a Baptist preacher, Edelman attended Spelman College in Atlanta and Yale University, where she received her law degree in 1963. She began her career as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, serving as the director of the Jackson, Miss., office and becoming the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar. In 1968 she moved to Washington, D.C., and started the Washington Research Project, which later (1973) became the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), a child advocacy lobby. As president of the CDF, Edelman has worked to decrease teenage pregnancy, increase Medicaid coverage for poor children, and secure government funding for childcare and early education programs such as Head Start. Edelman has written a number of books, including the bestseller The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992). She has been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, and the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other awards and honors.