Marie C. Wilson wouldn't mind being remembered as the mother of President Barbie, though most of her achievements have more heft. "I almost lost my feminist credentials for suggesting that doll," says Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, co-creator (with Gloria Steinem) of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and founder of the White House Project, dedicated to increasing the number of female leaders.
Her Past and Present
Creativity and cheerful subversion have marked Wilson's 20-year tenure as president of the Ms. Foundation, where she's raised millions for programs promoting women's health, education, safety, and earning power. Now she's written an inspiring new book, Closing the Leadership Gap, that suggests large and small ways to take charge of the future.
That's how Wilson got started. Born and raised in Georgia, Wilson, 63, "learned about justice from the church" and worked in the civil rights movement. She was a full-time mother of four when she and her former husband adopted a baby boy who was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. "I worked with the school system to help him get what he needed. I lobbied for affordable childcare. Then I realized, Oh, my God, politics is about me!" She went on to pioneer workplace innovations such as flextime and job sharing as director of women's programs at Drake University, and she was the first woman elected at large to the Des Moines City Council.
Her Goal: Electing More Women
With Wilson at the helm, the White House Project ran a national straw poll alerting voters to qualified female presidential candidates, conducted research on successful campaigning, uncovered the fact that women represented only 11 percent of guests featured on the influential Sunday morning news shows, and created a database of suitable female experts to remedy the situation. Now it's teaming with V-Day—started by playwright Eve Ensler to support organizations eradicating violence against women—in a joint initiative. Called Women Elect the Future, it's a national effort to mobilize women to vote and develop leadership skills so they can run for office. (For more information, go to thewhitehouseproject.org.)
Putting a woman in the White House is Wilson's ultimate goal, but she'll be pleased if her latest projects encourage every woman to say what one girl did when asked what she'd learned from Take Our Daughters to Work Day: "I'm the president of my own life."