Children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, the founder or the Children’s Defense Fund and its leader for four decades, will receive the 2022 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize from the American Academy of Political and Social Science. The Moynihan Prize, named for the polymath politician and professor, is awarded annually to a leading policy-maker, social scientist, or public intellectual whose career demonstrates the value of using research and evidence to improve the human condition.
“For over a quarter century, Marian Wright Edelman advocated for children, youth and poor families by exposing the shortcomings of the social safety nets and charting clear-eyed policy solutions,” said AAPSS President Marta Tienda. “Like Moynihan, she tackled huge problems with courage and conviction, and worked tirelessly across partisan divides to craft evidence-based solutions in the service of children and youth. She is an inspired choice for the 2022 Moynihan Prize.”
Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), a non-profit child advocacy and research organization, in 1973 with a mission to ensure that every child has a safe and healthy start to life and a successful passage into adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. As president of CDF for more than 40 years, Edelman positioned the organization as one of the nation’s fiercest voices on behalf of children and families, building bipartisan support for laws and policies that have helped millions of children to escape poverty; to receive needed health care, nutrition, Head Start and Early Head Start, child care, education, special education, family support services, and adoption assistance; and to have protections in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and protection from gun violence. Throughout, CDF has bolstered its advocacy with research, documenting issues and investigating solutions for children in crisis. Now president emerita of CDF, Edelman continues to challenge the nation to establish and improve programs and policies for children and families.
Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, was the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. In the 1960s, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi, moving to Washington, D.C., in 1968 to work as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign, which had been started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to address poverty. Soon after, she founded Washington Research Project, a public-interest law firm that monitored federal programs for low-income families. Starting in 1971, she also served as the director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University, where the earliest planning for CDF took place.
On awarding her the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2000—at the same ceremony at which Senator Moynihan received the honor—President Bill Clinton remarked that Edelman had “inspired … citizens, young and old, to join her through the years in the crusade that has become known as the Children’s Defense Fund, the base from which she has changed the future for millions of America’s children by grassroots actions and successful lobbying in Congress for health care, child care, education, and so much more.”
The American Academy of Political and Social Science created the Moyhihan Prize in 2007. Previous recipients include John Holdren, former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz; sociologist and Harvard professor William Julius Wilson; Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and the most recent recipient, climate economist and Nobel laureate William Nordhaus. A full list of prize recipients can be found on the AAPSS website.