The Hon. Donna F. Edwards

Former Senior Fellow

Donna F. Edwards was the first African American woman elected to represent Maryland in the United States Congress.

Congresswoman Edwards was born in Yanceyville, North Carolina, grew up in a military family, and lived in every region of the country and internationally.  A graduate of Thomas Stone High School in Charles County, Maryland, she earned B.A. degree from Wake Forest University, where she was one of only six black women in the class of 1980. She completed her final year of study at the University of Salamanca, Spain, in WFU’s study-abroad program. She is the mother of one son, who is the light of her life.

After college, Congresswoman Edwards began her career at the United Nations Development Program.  In addition to her service at the UN, Congresswoman Edwards worked for the Lockheed Corporation at the Goddard Space Flight Center with the Spacelab program. She earned a Juris Doctorate degree in 1989 from the University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly the Franklin Pierce Law Center).

In her distinguished career, Congresswoman Edwards worked as an attorney in private practice, clerked for a District of Columbia Superior Court Judge, and worked as a public interest lawyer.  As a nonprofit executive, Congresswoman Edwards co-founded and led the National Network to End Domestic Violence, spearheading the effort to pass the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.  She was the executive director of the Arca Foundation and Center for a New Democracy and was a tireless advocate for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy non-profit organization.  Congresswoman Edwards was member of the Diversity Leadership Council for the Maryland Democratic Party, and served on the board of directors for the League of Conservation Voters and Common Cause. She currently serves on the Profiles in Courage Awards Committee of the John F. Kennedy Library.

Elected in a special election in June 2008, Ms. Edwards became Maryland’s first African American woman in Congress, serving 5 terms.  In Congress, she served on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Committee on Standards and Official Conduct, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, serving as the lead Democrat on the Subcommittee on Space.  In her last term, Congresswoman Edwards was a member of the Democratic leadership team as co-chair of the House Democrat’s Steering and Policy Committee. 

Her first act in Congress was to add Maryland to the Afterschool Suppers Program, ensuring student access to nutritional dinners, and to afterschool and youth development programs in schools located in low-income areas.  She secured a provision in the Affordable Care Act to hold insurance companies accountable for unjustified rate increases.  She was a strong advocate for investing in historically black colleges, protecting of women’s reproductive rights, and protecting the Social Security and Medicare programs.  Congresswoman Edwards championed legislation to reduce opioid overdose, to ensure quality, affordable child care, to end the federal death penalty, and to provide education opportunities to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.  She was the first member of Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to repeal the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision. In 2014, as chair of the Democratic women of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Edwards launched the Women’s Economic Agenda for equal pay, affordable childcare and women’s economic security. 

Congresswoman Edwards ran, unsuccessfully for the United States Senate, ending her tenure in the House of Representatives in 2017.  Congresswoman Edwards has spent the last couple of months on an epic RV roadtrip camping, hiking, fishing and thinking in state and national parks across the country.  A progressive champion who has fought for Maryland families in both the non-profit sector and in public office, she is a role model for girls and women who dream of serving their country at the highest levels of government.

“Every girl should wake up, look in the mirror, and see a leader who is willing to serve. I wish tomorrow’s leaders the confidence to serve despite the naysayers and adversaries – no doubt, there will be many.” DFE