Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children’s Television (ACT), took on the burgeoning television industry of the 1970s and won. She was honored for her efforts in 1995 when she received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work on behalf of quality television programming for children. In August 1996, she stood with President Bill Clinton when he announced that the television industry had agreed to abide by the advocates’ interpretation of 1990 legislation linking licensing to children’s educational programming.
She was born Peggy Walzer on March 9, 1928, to Ruth Rosenthal of Manhattan and Maxwell Walzer of Brooklyn. Her grandparents had come to the United States from Germany and Russia before the turn of the century. She had a liberal, middle-class upbringing where, Charren says “the idea of caring for others and their plight was part of life. Many Jewish families felt this way because of what happened to the Jews. My grandfather was a doctor with many poor patients. My family was always involved in the political process.”
Her mother, a pianist, had won a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music, but married instead and instilled a love of music in her and her sister, Barbara, who was three years younger. Peggy majored in liberal arts at Connecticut College, graduating in 1949. She became director of the film department at station WPIX-TV in New York City. In 1951, when she was twenty-three years old, she married Stanley Charren, an engineer. The couple lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has two daughters and four grandchildren.
She did not start out to be an advocate, but while at home with two young daughters, she was concerned by the lack of children’s educational programming and the prevalence of violent and product-related shows designed primarily to sell toys to young audiences. Drawing on experience gained in her job at a television station, her skill for organizing, and her boundless energy, she founded, in 1968, Action for Children’s Television (ACT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging more diversity in television choices for children.
She realized that the Communications Act of 1934, which states that in return for a license to use the broadcast spectrum a station must serve the public interest, could be used as leverage to promote educational television programs. In response to ACT’s efforts, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act in 1990, requiring each television station to provide some programs specifically designed to educate children or risk losing its license. It took six more years to get the industry to pay attention, however. Although ACT closed in 1992, Peggy Charren continued to work on the issue, and in 1996, with the help of President Clinton and the Federal Communications Commission, the rules were strengthened to mandate at least three hours of children’s programming per week before a station license would be renewed.
Prior to founding ACT in 1968, Charren was director of the Creative Arts Council of Newton, Massachusetts. She owned and operated Quality Book Fairs, a company that organized children’s book fairs, and Art Prints, a gallery specializing in graphics.
She is a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and received the Helen Homans Gilbert Award from Radcliffe College. She has received numerous honorary degrees.
She received the Annenberg Public Policy Center Award from the University of Pennsylvania for lifetime contribution to excellence in children’s television and a Women That Make a Difference Award from the International Women’s Forum, both in 1996, a Peabody Award in 1992, and a National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy in 1998. She was also honored by the Consumer Federation of America with the Consumer Service Award in 1994, the Great Friend to Kids Award from the Association of Youth Museums in 1994, and the Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club Tribute to Women Award in 1997.
Charren served on the board of the Jewish Women’s Archive from 1996 to 2000.
Changing Channels: Living Sensibly with Television, with Martin W. Sandler (1983); Television, Children and the Constitutional Bicentennial (1986); The TV-Smart Book for Kids, with Carol Hulsizer (1986).
Boston Globe, March 17, 1996; Charren, Peggy. Interview with author; Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 1996; Contemporary Authors (1992); “Women Who Dared.” Jewish Women Archives, 2004; Schoenebaum, Eleanor W. Political Profiles: The Nixon/Ford Years (1979); Who’s Who in America (1976–); Who’s Who of Advertising; Who’s Who of American Women. 11th–18th eds.; Who’s Who of Entertainment. 2d ed.