Margaret McNamara

Not to be confused with Margaret Craig.
Margaret McNamara
Born Margaret Craig
(1915-08-22)August 22, 1915
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
Died February 3, 1981(1981-02-03) (aged 65)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, U.S.
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Teacher
Known for Founder of Reading is Fundamental
Spouse(s) Robert Strange McNamara
(1940 - 1981, her death)
Children 3
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom (1981)

Margaret Craig McNamara (August 22, 1915 – February 3, 1981) was the founder of the nonprofit children's literacy organization Reading is Fundamental and the wife of the United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.


She was born in Spokane, Washington on August 22, 1915, but she grew up in Alameda, California.[1]

McNamara attended University of California, Berkeley, where she met Robert McNamara, whom she would marry on August 13, 1940.[2] Her husband's appointment by President John F. Kennedy as U.S. Secretary of Defense led to their move to Washington, D.C.. Her experiences while tutoring had three children in the District led to the formation of Reading is Fundamental (RIF), a nonprofit children's literacy organization dedicated to making reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. It is the largest literacy program in the country.

On January 16, 1981, President Jimmy Carter awarded McNamara the Medal of Freedom for her work with RIF. She died of cancer eighteen days later, at the age of 65.[3][4] She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Reading is Fundamental

After many early organizational meeting with other educators in the District, McNamara secured a $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to support pilot activities in the District of Columbia. Following the success RIF had in Washington, the Ford Foundation increased RIF's grant to $285,000 in August 1968, enabling RIF to launch ten model programs across the country. From these early beginnings, RIF evolved into a national motivating force for literacy. At the time of McNamara's death in 1981, RIF had provided "more than 3 million poor children with 37 million books."[4]

Today, through its contract with the U.S. Department of Education and with private funds, RIF provides 16 million free books for children to choose and keep each year. RIF programs operate in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. RIF is also affiliated with programs in Argentina and the United Kingdom. It achieves high visibility through public service announcements on children's television programs.

The Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund

The Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund[5] was established in 1981 to honor Margaret McNamara and her commitment to the well-being of women and children in developing countries. The purpose of the grant is to support the education of women from developing countries who are committed to improving the lives of women and children in their home countries. Previous grant recipients were studying fields such as agriculture, architecture and urban planning, civil engineering, education, forestry, journalism, nursing, nutrition, pediatrics, public administration, public health, social sciences, and social work.

The Fog of War

Robert McNamara mentions his wife several times in The Fog of War, the 2003 Oscar-winning documentary.[6]


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