She is one of the founders of the Sesame Workshop (originally Children's Television Workshop or CTW), the organization famous for the creation of the children's television show Sesame Street, which was also co-created by her
Cooney grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and earned a B.A. degree in education from the University of Arizona in 1951
After working for the State Department in Washington, D.C. and as a journalist in Phoenix, she worked as a publicist for television and production companies in New York City
In 1961, she became interested in working for educational television, and became a documentary producer for New York's first educational TV station WNET (Channel 13)
Many of the programs she produced won local Emmys
In 1966, Cooney hosted what she called "a little dinner party" at her apartment near Gramercy Park
In attendance was her husband Tim Cooney, her boss Lewis Freedman, and Lloyd Morrisett, an executive at the Carnegie Corporation, in which the potential of television to teach young children was discussed
Cooney was chosen to oversee and direct the creation of what eventually became the children's television program Sesame Street, which premiered in 1969, and the CTW, the organization that oversaw its production
Cooney was named CTW's first executive director
As one of the first female executives in American television, her appointment was called "one of the most important television developments of the decade"
Cooney remained executive director of the CTW until 1990, when she became the chair of CTW's executive board
She served on several boards, was the trustees of many organizations, and received many awards and honorary degrees
In 2007, the Sesame Workshop founded The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, named in her honor
I thought it was quintessentially American - very hip, very late-'60s. I was absolutely stunned when a German production company asked me if I could do a 'Sesame Street' in Germany. It was absolutely the happiest surprise.
Big Bird was the biggest star, I mean, children's favorite for a number of years. I have a 22-year-old granddaughter whose first words were 'Big Bird.'
In South Africa, where HIV-positive children are often shunned, we have an HIV-positive Muppet to teach children to be friendly with children with HIV. But they use local actors. And it's not always a street. Sometimes it's 'Sesame Plaza,' or 'Sesame Tree.'
The question for me was, could TV actually teach? I knew it could, because I knew 3-year-olds who sang beer commercials!