Born in Georgia in 1940, Marie C. Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware before going on to obtain an MS in Higher Education from Drake University, where, from 1978-81, she was the Director of Women’s Programs. From 1981-83, Wilson was an executive with the Iowa Bankers Association, serving first as Director of Education & Human Resources, and later as Vice President. In 1983 she became a city councilwoman in Des Moines, and the following year she joined the Ms. Foundation for Women (MFW), where she held the titles of President and CEO until her resignation on June 30, 2004. Wilson thereafter served as the Foundation’s President Emerita and as a senior advisor to its board of directors.
In 1992 Wilson and Gloria Steinem co-created “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” an MFW project that was designed to increase young girls’ career-related ambitions by exposing them to a broad array of workplace environments.
Also during her tenure at the helm of the Ms. Foundation, Wilson established the Collaborative Fund for Women’s Economic Development, which pioneered and supported funding circles and micro-enterprise programs for low-income women. In 1995 she was a delegate to the United Nations‘ Fourth World Conference on Women.
Wilson founded the White House Project (WHP) in 1998 and served as its President until 2011, two years before the Project ceased its operations. Promoting the use of innovative tactics to attract young women to political careers at all levels of government, WHP’s “ultimate goal,” said Wilson, was “to transform American culture so that the number of women leaders in all sectors achieves a critical mass.” All told, the Project’s political “boot camps” trained more than 11,000 women in a variety of leadership skills.
In 2003, WHP teamed with “V-Day” — an activist movement founded by playwright Eve Ensler to support organizations devoted to eradicating violence against women — in a joint initiative called Women Elect the Future, a national effort to mobilize women to vote in political elections and to develop the leadership skills that would prepare them to hold political office themselves. Another of WHP’s more noteworthy projects was its “Barbie for President” campaign of 2004, where the iconic doll was presented as a presidential candidate running on the “Party of Girls” ticket. “Barbie for President shows girls that they can aspire to the highest levels of leadership, including the presidency,” said Wilson. “It allows girls to think about turning Barbie’s dream house into the White House. Since Barbie is such a large part of girls’ lives, we believe it’s important to encourage them to become tomorrow’s leaders, and Barbie for President sends that message.” WHP also created SheSource.org, a database of women experts with media experience, and it instituted training programs for female activists and political candidates through its “Vote, Run, Lead” program, which was launched in 2005.
Wilson is the co-author of Mother-Daughter Revolution (1993), a book that attempts to redefine the traditional roles of girls and women, and Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World (2004).
In August 2018 in Chautauqua, New York, Wilson and Ms. Foundation President Teresa C. Younger together spoke at an event titled “Stepping Up and Speaking Out: Women in Politics and Society in America,” which was part of the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s Contemporary Issues Forum series.
Further Reading: “Marie C. Wilson” (MarieCWilson.tumblr.com, Encore.org); “Phenomenal Woman: Coming To A White House Near You” (Oprah.com); “Marie C. Wilson, Teresa C. Younger to Talk Possibility, Power for Women in U.S. in Contemporary Issues Forum” (Chautauquan Daily, 8-18-2018); “Barbie Announces a Surprise Bid for the 2004 Presidency” (Business Wire, 8-12-2004).