Joan Ganz Cooney

Co-Founder & Chairman of the Executive Committee Sesame Workshop

Joan Ganz Cooney

Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder in 1968 of Children’s Television Workshop (renamed Sesame Workshop June 2000) and originator of the preschool educational series Sesame Street, served as President and Chief Executive Officer until 1990. She is currently Chairman of the Executive Committee of Sesame Workshop’s Board and in November 2007 introduced the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, dedicated to advancing children’s learning in a digital age.

Sesame Street, which began as an experiment, is the first preschool program to integrate education and entertainment as well as feature a multi-cultural cast. It has been broadcast daily since 1969 in the U.S. on the more than 300 stations of the Public Broadcasting Service and has been seen by millions of children in more than 150 foreign countries. Indigenous co-productions 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 TV such as, 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. 

I have the same hope as any mother. I want my kids to have a bright future.

Joan Ganz Cooney

Sesame Workshop programs have been awarded more than 100 Emmys and have received scores of other honors presented here and around the world. The Workshop’s activities also include publishing, online services, award-winning digital media, extensive product licensing and community outreach efforts such as our recent award winning program — Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments, Homecomings, Changes — launched in 2006 to help military families with young children between the ages of two and five build a sense of stability and resiliency during times of separation and change.

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 the 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, a Trustee of the Paley Center for Media and The New York Presbyterian Hospital, and is a Lifetime Trustee of WNET Channel 13/Educational Broadcasting Corporation and of the National Child Labor Committee. She once held Board positions with the Chase Manhattan Bank, Xerox Corporation, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company 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 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 most recently, 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.

Contact for Speaking Engagements

Sesame Workshop Speakers Bureau