Petra Karin Kelly was born in Guenzburg, Bavaria, then in West Germany, in 1947. She attended the Englisches Institut, a Catholic girl’s boarding school, until 1960, when she went to Columbus, Georgia, with her mother and stepfather, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John E. Kelly. In Georgia she became involved in civil rights activities, while simultaneously learning English. She attended high school in Hampton, Virginia, where she had a weekly radio program on current issues.
In 1966 she entered the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C.; majored in political science, international relations, and world politics; and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in 1970. She won a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship and served as a teaching assistant for one year. She was active in student government and foreign student affairs at American University and initiated its first International Week in 1966, which has become an annual tradition.
As a student active in the anti-war, civil rights, anti-nuclear, and feminist movements, she worked as a volunteer for Senator Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, founding Students for Kennedy in Washington. After Kennedy's assassination she worked as a volunteer in the office of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, helping his electoral campaign, becoming his friend and the recipient of many letters on political subjects and requests for advice on European questions. She recalls, "After supporting the civil rights and anti-war movements in Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., I became very much a nonviolent activist after 1968."
As an AU student, Kelly participated in nonviolent civil disobedience in the civil rights movement, and anti-Vietnam war movements. She was inspired to carry out her work by: Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day, all of whom she studied at American. When Kelly finished her schooling at AU, she returned to Europe to obtain her Master’s degree from the University of Amsterdam. From there she became involved in politics. Her agenda consisted of: an opposition to nuclear missiles; advocacy for the sick; the handicapped; and the underprivileged. In 1983 she was elected to the German Bundestag and in 1984 became one of three parliamentary speakers for the Green Parliamentary Group. Kelly’s efforts for peace have been internationally recognized.
In 1982 she received the Alternative Nobel Prize, and in 1983 was named Peace Woman of the Year by the American organization Women Strike for Peace. Kelly’s strive for Peace was cut short in 1992 with her untimely death at the age of 44. She strove for peace in the world, and believed the education of conflict resolution was necessary.