Manzano joined Sesame Workshop, formerly the Children's Television Workshop, series in 1971, at age 17, playing a girl from Puerto Rico who gets a job at the Sesame Street library.
Manzano, who also played a shop owner on the series, became a regular member of the cast three years after she joined. She ran the Fix-It Shop with her TV husband Luis, played by Emilio Delgado. The two "married" in 1988.
Sesame Workshop released a statement to mom.me this morning, saying: "Sonia Manzano has announced her retirement from 'Sesame Street,' but she will always be a part of the fabric of our neighborhood. During her 44-year career as the iconic Maria, and the first leading Latina woman on television, she was a role model for young girls and women for generations. Sonia's talents on 'Sesame Street' extend beyond her groundbreaking role on camera; she also earned 15 Emmy awards as a member of 'Sesame Street's' writing team. We'll always be grateful for her many years on 'Sesame Street' as a champion of diversity and helping millions of kids grow up smarter, stronger and kinder."
While Manzano said that she's unsure of what she'll do next, according to AOL, she did reveal that her post-"Sesame Street" life will be "the beginning of new endeavors."
In addition to playing Maria on "Sesame Street," which celebrated its 45th season last year, Manzano also wrote for the PBS show, garnering 15 Daytime Emmy awards in the process.
Her work expanded beyond the neighborhood home to other beloved characters both human and muppet. "Law and Order: SVU" fans recognize the toaster-repairwoman in her role as Judge Gloria Pepitone. She performed in the original off-Broadway production of "Godspell," and she's author of a kids' book, "The Lowdown on the High Bridge," which will be released this summer.
Her other books include "Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx," a memoir about growing up as a Latina in New York that will be published in August, as well as children's book "Miracle on 133rd Street," which will arrive on bookshelves in September.
On her Twitter account, Manzano has retweeted many well wishes from her fans.
Manzano is leaving "Sesame Street" on good terms and tells bummed-out fans on Twitter that maybe she's open to coming back for a 50th anniversary episode, which is really not that many years away, making many of us parents reading this news feel incredibly, incredibly old.