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Copying. Videotapes may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
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
These videotapes were given to the Schlesinger Library by Esther Peterson in August 1996 and by Lars Peterson in 1998.
By: Kelley Gove
- Peterson, Esther, 1906-1997. Videotape collection of Esther Peterson, 1979-1998: A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- EAD ID
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