2003 Laureate Prize Winner

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

2003 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate in Public Service

A scholarly man with the air of an absent-minded professor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was one of those rare individuals who, with wit and wisdom, traversed the worlds of politics and academia. Trained in law, economics and sociology, he served in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford; he served as U.S. ambassador to India and to the United Nations. In 1976 he was elected to the United States Senate where he worked for the next twenty-four years. His contributions were numerous, but the overarching issue that drove him, and defined him as well, was the plight of the poor in this country, and his vision for a national family policy to help solve problems of welfare, poverty and racism.

Born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Moynihan moved with his family to New York when he was six. He graduated from the Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, and attended the City University of New York for a year. Then he joined the Navy and came to the Boston area to receive officer training at Tufts University. He was on active duty from 1944 to 1947, and returned to Tufts to complete a Ph.D. in sociology from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In 1959 he campaigned for John Kennedy, and later became Assistant Secretary of Labor for policy during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In 1965 he submitted a report entitled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action which he saw as the backbone to Johnson’s War on Poverty. In it, he argued for the concept that a government must go beyond simple assurance that members of minorities have the same rights as the majority; government must also act affirmatively in order to endeavor to correct the problems. Although he was widely criticized at the time, Moynihan’s report led to the 1988 Welfare Reform Act which recognized for the first time a father’s duty to support his children in addition to other initiatives to help people in the workplace.

In 1965 Moynihan became Director the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies. Three years later he entered the political arena again, serving as President Nixon’s Counselor for Urban Affairs. Nixon appointed him Ambassador to India, and Ford appointed Moynihan U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1976 he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he was known for his sharp wit, and for not always towing the party line. He defied easy categorization and established a reputation for being intellectually honest, and for not walking away from debate, no matter how messy it promised to be.

In addition to his political career, Moynihan held positions at Harvard, MIT, and Wesleyan University. He wrote nineteen books on social issues and public policy, leading his personal friend George F. Will to say that Dr. Moynihan “wrote more books than most senators have read.” In 2000, Moynihan was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. He retired from public life in 2001. Two years later he died after complications suffered from an emergency appendectomy.