Joan Ganz Cooney, originator of the preschool educational series Sesame Street, was co-founder in 1968 of Children’s Television Workshop (renamed Sesame Workshop June 2000) and served as President and Chief Executive Officer until 1990.
She then served as Chair of the Executive Committee of Sesame Workshop’s Board until 2020, when she was elected to serve as a Lifetime Honorary Trustee. In November 2007, she introduced the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, dedicated to advancing children’s learning in a digital age.
Sesame Street, the first preschool program to integrate education and entertainment and feature a multi-cultural cast, is the longest running children’s program in U.S. television history. It has been watched by millions of children in more than 150 countries and is currently seen on both HBO Max and PBS, where it has aired daily on stations across the U.S. since 1969. International co-productions of Sesame Street reflecting local languages, customs, and educational needs have been produced for audiences all over the world.
Following the successful launch of Sesame Street, Mrs. Cooney and her colleagues created other award-winning children’s series on network and public television, including The Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Square One TV, Ghostwriter, CRO, Big Bag, Dragon Tales, Sagwa the Chinese Cat, and Pinky Dinky Doo, all bringing science, mathematics, reading, and new experiences to life.
Sesame Street has won a record-breaking 205 Emmy Awards and has received scores of other honors, such as ten Grammy Awards and five George Foster Peabody Awards, including an Institutional Peabody. In 2019, Sesame Street celebrated its historic 50th anniversary with a yearlong celebration featuring a cross-country road trip and a New York City street-naming, culminating in becoming the first-ever television program to be selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree. Sesame Workshop, among many other honors, received the inaugural Global Impact Clio Award and a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award and is widely known for powerful social impact work helping vulnerable children across the U.S. and internationally.
Mrs. Cooney received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arizona. She began her career as a reporter in her hometown of Phoenix. From 1954 to 1962 she worked as a publicist for NBC in New York and for the U.S. Steel Hour, a highly acclaimed CBS drama series. She was an award-winning public affairs producer for New York’s WNET/THIRTEEN before conducting a landmark study for Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1966 entitled, “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education,” which led to the founding of the Workshop.
Mrs. Cooney is presently a Director at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and a Life Trustee of the Paley Center for Media, The New York Presbyterian Hospital and WNET. She held Board positions with the Chase Manhattan Bank, Xerox Corporation, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the National Child Labor Committee, and Edison Schools, Inc. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
She has served as a member of the President’s Commission for a National Agenda for the Eighties, the President’s Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, the Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations, the Carnegie Foundation’s National Panel on the High School, and the United Nation’s Reorientation of UN Information Activities Task Force. Among her many honorary degrees are those from Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Barnard, New York University, Smith, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Oberlin, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Northwestern, and her alma mater, the University of Arizona, from which she received the Centennial Medallion Award in 1989.
Mrs. Cooney has received numerous awards including a Daytime Emmy for Lifetime Achievement in 1989 and, in 1990, was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and received the Founders Award from the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1995, President Clinton awarded Mrs. Cooney the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and in 1998, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Mrs. Cooney was honored with the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s award for Distinguished Contribution to Children and Television, noting Sesame Street as being “the quintessential children’s educational program” and in 2003 she was honored with the National Endowment for the Humanities Award by President George W. Bush.
Mrs. Cooney was married for many years to the late New York businessman Peter G. Peterson, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. She has five stepchildren, and presently, nine grandchildren.
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