Women is...: Children's Advocate Marian Wright Edelman

Children's Advocate Marian Wright Edelman

profession: Founder & prez of the Children's Defense Fund, a privately funded children's advocacy group.

annual budget: $14 million.

the basic story: Feisty, fast-talking, tireless crusader for kids. Through the Children's Defense Fund, organized the Stand for Children march on Washington, D.C., which drew 200,000+ people to Washington last June. Recently, she publicly criticized long-time friend President Clinton for signing a bill cutting welfare benefits, saying that it makes a "mockery" of his professed advocacy for kids.
born: June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, S.C., the youngest of five children of a Baptist minister.

education: B.A., Spelman College, 1960; J.D., Yale Law School, 1963.

the way up: Just out of law school in 1964, she opened and ran the Mississippi office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. She brought then-New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy to the homes of poor Mississippians in a successful quest to draw attention to the problem of hunger and make federal food stamps free.

what next: Helped Martin Luther King Jr. plan the Poor People's March on Washington, which took place after his death, and in the process formed the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm. It in turn started the Children's Defense Fund in 1973.
on how things have changed: "We now take it for granted that children who are mentally, physically and emotionally challenged go to school," Edelman says. "I love going to Harvard Law School and seeing kids who started out in Headstart."

the march: While critics called the Stand for Children march a defense of big government, Edelman says, "It wasn't about big government, it was about a just government. We ought to hold the Defense Department to the same standards of effectiveness and need as we do Headstart. We have to stop the slogans."

on family values: "We talk about family values, but then we make it very hard for parents to care for their children. And then we say, `Don't go on welfare! All you middle class women, don't work and neglect your children!'"
household: Husband Peter Edelman is the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the department of Health and Human Services and a former Robert F. Kennedy staffer, whom she met when RFK came to Mississippi. They have three sons, Joshua, 26, Jonah, 24, and Ezra, 21. Her best-selling book, "The Measure of Our Success," was born of a letter she wrote to Joshua on his 21st birthday.

balancing work & family: "Parenting is such a hard job. I know how hard it was for me to hang on with a husband, a good job and healthcare. I don't know what I would have done had I been a single parent."

on her reputation: "I know people talk about my not being willing to compromise. On the other hand I don't know what middle ground there is between immunizing a child and not immunizing a child. Between children dying from guns and not. If that's self-righteous or holier than thou, then sorry."