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COLLECTION Identifier: T-60

Audiotape collection of Esther Peterson, 1959-1990


Audiotape collection of Esther Peterson, labor, education, women's rights, and consumer affairs advocate.


  • Creation: 1959-1990

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright varies from tape to tape; see individual tape descriptions.

Copying. Tapes may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


96 audiotapes

This collection includes many hours of an audio diary Esther Peterson maintained during various periods, specifically during her 1969 trip to Asia for the Department of State; in 1973 during a trip to China with American Women for International Understanding; in 1977 when she was Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs; and during various other family and career-related trips. Also included are interviews, speeches, and discussions; and public service announcements and various advertising spots for Giant Foods. The audiotapes are arranged, for the most part, chronologically.

Titles in italics are transcribed from tape labels. Tape sides 1, 2, or A, B are also taken from the originals.


Esther Peterson was born Esther Eggertsen in Provo, Utah, on December 9, 1906. She was one of six children: Luther ("Bud"), Algie, Thelma, Anna Maria, Esther, and Mark. Her parents, Lars and Annie (Nielsen) Eggertsen, were the children of Danish immigrants who walked across the plains to Utah seeking freedom to worship as Mormons. The Eggertsens were Republicans, but Esther Peterson became an active Democrat, working in the fields of education, labor, women's rights and consumer affairs all her adult life.

Peterson attended public schools, was graduated from Brigham Young University (1927), taught in Utah for two years, and came east in 1929 to attend Teachers College at Columbia University. There she met her future husband, Oliver Peterson, and completed her masters degree (1930). Between 1930 and 1939, Peterson taught at the Winsor School in Boston; married Oliver Peterson; volunteered in the Industrial Department of the YWCA; was a labor organizer; joined Hilda Smith, a pioneer in workers' education, at the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers; and had her first child.

The 1940s were devoted to her family (Oliver Peterson and four children: Karen, Eric, Iver, and Lars), and to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Most of the next ten years the Petersons spent overseas, where Oliver Peterson, a foreign service officer, was the United States Labor Attaché to Sweden, and later to Belgium. Peterson worked with the trade union movement and helped organize the first International School for Working Women.

When the Petersons returned to the United States in 1957, Peterson became legislative representative for the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO (1958-1961), serving until President John F. Kennedy chose her to head the Women's Bureau in the United States Department of Labor, and later the same year, to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Labor Standards. In addition, she was appointed executive vice chairman of the first President's Commission on the Status of Women (1961-1963), chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt until her death in 1962. Peterson also helped found the National Committee on Household Employment, an organization that brought together voluntary organizations and government agencies under the auspices of the Women's Bureau (1964-1965) to improve the working conditions of household workers, develop training programs, and change public attitudes about household employees. According to Esther Peterson, the "Committee began with a suggestion I made to the National Association of Women when they gave me the year's award which carried $3,000. This was the seed money to get the Committee started. Sears and Whirlpool helped."

After President Kennedy's assassination in 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Esther Peterson to remain as Women's Bureau director, and also named her to the newly created post of Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, a position she held until 1967. Until her re-appointment to this post by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, she worked as the legislative representative to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Association (1969-1970), and then as Consumer Advisor to Giant Food, a grocery store chain in the Washington, D.C. area (1970-1977). Oliver Peterson died in 1979 at the age of 76, ending a mutually devoted, lifelong partnership.

After serving in the Carter Administration, Peterson worked with various organizations concerned with the rights of consumers, both in the United States and abroad. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a public member of the United States delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. Esther Peterson died in her home in Washington, D.C. on December 20, 1997, at the age of 91.

Peterson helped to organize textile and garment workers as well as teachers; was instrumental in bringing about legislative victories for the minimum wage, amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, truth-in-packaging, truth-in-lending, unit pricing, and product labeling of ingredients; worked actively for the rights of women, minorities, workers, consumers, and household employees; campaigned extensively for Democratic candidates; and traveled and lectured to a wide range of groups.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 84-M161, 98-M173

These audiotapes were given to the Schlesinger Library by Esther Peterson in 1984 and Lars Peterson, son of Esther Peterson, in October 1998. For related papers and videotapes, see the finding aids for the Esther Peterson papers (MC 450) and videotapes (Vt-81).

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Papers of Esther Peterson, 1884-1998 (MC 450) and Videotape collection of Esther Peterson, 1979-1998 (Vt-81).

Processing Information

Processed: January 2002

By: Joanne Donovan

Peterson, Esther, 1906-1997. Audiotape collection of Esther Peterson: A Finding Aid.
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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