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MC 450

Peterson, Esther, 1906-1997. Papers of Esther Peterson, 1884-1998 (inclusive), 1929-1998 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 450
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Peterson, Esther, 1906-1997
Title: Papers of Esther Peterson, 1884-1998 (inclusive), 1929-1988 (bulk)
Date(s): 1884-1998
Date(s): 1929-1988
Quantity: 63.8 linear feet (146 file boxes, 2 half file boxes, 5 card file boxes) plus 7 folio folders, 3 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 166 photograph folders, 4 folio photograph folders, 1 folio+ photograph folder, 1 supersize photograph folder, 5 slides)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Papers of Esther Peterson, labor, education, women's rights, and consumer affairs advocate.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: Accession numbers: 1534, 1599, 72-34,73-13, 73-23, 75-212, 75-324, 76-1, 76-264, 76-289, 76-388, 77-M2, 77-M191, 78-M7, 78-M32, 78-M94, 78-M181, 78-M226, 79-M1, 79-M49, 79-M80, 79-M144, 79-M163, 79-M210, 80-M5, 80-M127, 80-M160, 81-M292, 82-M78, 83-M66, 84-M161, 88-M30, 88-M78, 89-M56, 90-M92, 96-M115, 98-M54, 98-M112, 98-M173, 2005-M48
These papers of Esther (Eggertsen) Peterson were given to the Schlesinger Library by Esther Peterson beginning in February 1969, and continuing through August 1996. Additional material was sent by her former office at Giant Food, Inc. in April 1998, by her son Lars in June and October 1998, and by her children in June 2005. Audiovisual material is catalogued separately; see finding aids for Vt-81, Vt-100, and T-270.

Processing Information:

Processed: December 1998; addenda processed June 2006
By: Katherine Kraft, with Kathy Herrlich (Series IX)


Access. Unrestricted, except that the following address books and related files are restricted as indicated: #301 until January 1, 2010; #302-303, box 16, and #3417, 3423-3428 until January 1, 2030; boxes 14-15 are restricted until January 1, 2020; and box 17 is restricted until January 1, 2040. Manuscript staff may consult address files (#301-304, boxes 14-17, #3417, 3423-3428) for researchers and disclose names and affiliations only. #603 and 1186 are closed until January 1, 2014.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Esther Peterson is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Esther Peterson Papers, 1884-1998; item description, dates. MC 450, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Related Material:

Audiovisual materials (audiocassettes and videocassettes, motion picture, phonograph records) are catalogued separately (see Vt-81, Vt-100, T-60, T-270).


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.
For additional biographical information, see below and papers in Series I and Series VIII. Peterson has additional papers in the presidential libraries of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter (see #1935), and in the archives of the National Consumers' League. She has been a participant in various oral history projects; transcripts are available in Series I and elsewhere in the Schlesinger Library (see OH-2, OH-50, OH-55). Some highlights of her busy professional and personal life are reflected in the following chronology.


The collection is arranged in ten series:


This collection contains documentation relating to many phases of Peterson's life and work, but is particularly rich in papers concerning the creation of federal policy on a variety of issues affecting women and consumers. Although the official records of Peterson's work for the United States Department of Labor and as the Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs are in the National Archives and the respective Presidential libraries, this collection contains unique materials revealing the workings of the political process. From Peterson's role as a labor lobbyist for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America through her work representing the International Organization of Consumers Unions, the papers show the tremendous amount of time and effort, negotiation, patience, and frustration that were required in the development and implementation of each new policy or piece of legislation. Original documents and later interviews clarify why and how particular compromises were made.
The personal correspondence in each series reflects the range of Peterson's friends and colleagues, the breadth of her interests in numerous progressive organizations, and the love, respect and admiration people had for her. Although she had many political enemies, she apparently had few personal ones.
The original filing systems were most likely created by Peterson's various staffs. Peterson marked items for the collection "Library," "Rad" or "Schlesinger." The processor has created the series and folder arrangement, but folder contents and headings are as originally received, unless otherwise stated. Most items not in folders have been added to existing folders; the documents are so identified in square brackets: [found loose].
Clippings from large city newspapers were discarded, unless they pertained directly to Peterson or her work.
There is extensive overlap between categories within each series, for subjects as well as individuals, although there is very little duplication. For example, correspondence about legislation may be filed with the name of the legislation, with correspondence from individuals, with engagement correspondence, etc. Papers received in 2005 from Peterson's family (#3404-3516), as well as some from Peterson's office at Giant Food overlooked when the collection was processed in 1999 (#3517-3608), were added to the collection in 2006. Listed in the finding aid where they belong intellectually, they are boxed separately. Most photographs have been grouped and arranged separately (see Series X) since many of them are not yet fully identified. In some obvious cases, however, photographs have been interfiled in relevant series (e.g., photographs of the President's Commission on the Status of Women are in Series II with other President's Commission on the Status of Women papers). Audiovisual materials (audiocassettes and videocassettes, motion picture, phonograph records) are catalogued separately (see Vt-81, Vt-100, T-60, T-270).
The collection is divided into ten series. Series I, biographical and personal, spans the entire range of Peterson's life; Series II-VI are arranged chronologically by employer or organization; Series VII contains both alphabetical and chronological correspondence files, while Series VIII-X are genre-based, contain materials covering many decades of her life, and overlap the previous series in subject matter.
Series I, Biographical and personal (#1-305, 3404-3430), contains biographical press releases and awards; transcripts of interviews with Peterson and related correspondence; papers kept together by Peterson for use in a proposed autobiography (begun with her son Iver), or biography (various possible authors), including interviews, correspondence, supporting documents from the 1930s through 1969, and chapter drafts; unpublished reports and drafts of articles about Peterson; newspaper and magazine clippings; a few papers from her college and graduate school years; the 1933 diary recounting her trip to Denmark and Norway with Oliver A. Peterson to meet relatives; poems and unidentified notes, etc.; family correspondence with her mother, siblings, husband, children, and others; personal correspondence, arranged alphabetically (see also Series II-VII); appointment books, calendars, etc., 1960-1995; and address books and card files (restricted as noted). Oliver Peterson has additional papers in the Library of Congress.
The most extensive personal correspondence is with her friend and colleague, labor leader J.B.S. Hardman (#190-197), and his wife Virginia (#198-199), and with Lady Stella Reading (#210-216), labor leader in Great Britain.
The "FBI report" (#66-73) was so designated on the original folder, but has no direct attribution. It contains copies of various consumer documents, as well as allegations about Esther and Oliver A. Peterson's communist affiliations, etc. The reports on Peterson and the consumer movement (#74-76) are also unattributed, but are strongly right-wing, alleging communist domination of the consumer movement.
The 20 volumes and two cartons of newspaper and magazine articles, arranged chronologically, were microfilmed and discarded. Five of the volumes are scrapbooks that also contain some programs, speeches, etc. They were created by one of Peterson's nephews during her years in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations; the remainder were probably put together by her staff.
Other than the 1933 diary (#147-148), a few notes, and brief journal entries for 1948-1949, 1952-1953 (#26-27), 1986-1987 (#2286), and 1987-1994 (#3415-3422), there are no personal journals. For correspondence about Peterson's 75th, 85th, and 90th birthday celebrations, see Series VII (#2125-2126, 2027, 3470-3477). Condolences received by her family after her death, as well as papers about her memorial service, are also in Series VII (#3483-3504).
Series II, Labor movement, 1934-1960 (#306-441, 3431-3449), contains a few items re: the Knights of Labor, the Agricultural Workers Industrial Union, and the New England Teachers Union; and papers re: Peterson's work with the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers (BMSS), Hudson Shore Labor School (HSLS), Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), and AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department, and her years in Sweden and Belgium. A few additional items about Peterson's early union work are in Series I (#45, 48-49).
The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers and Hudson Shore Labor School papers include a 1939 scrapbook of clippings, programs and photographs from Hudson Shore Labor School; notes by Peterson and others on plays and presentations; printed material, including publications about recreation, leaflets, songbooks and sheet music, plays, programs, poems by Hilda Smith, and autobiographies of women workers. There is very little unpublished material. For letters from Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers alumnae and documents concerning Rita Heller's documentary, Women of Summer, see #1980-1981, 2220, 3455.
There are very few Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America papers, and none relating to her lobbying for expanded coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Included are photographs; programs; a loose-leaf notebook used for lobbying Congress, ca.1947-1948; letters to Peterson; Letters to Roosevelt, edited by Peterson; and various printed material.
Peterson's years in Sweden and Belgium are represented by her mimeographed letters to family and friends (1948-1958); personal correspondence; Peterson's notes on various occasions and her children's sayings; articles about Esther and Oliver A. Peterson (most in Swedish, some with translations); her draft and final version of Toward Standards for the Household Worker: Experience in Sweden (prepared for the United States Department of Labor Women's Bureau with Mary-Elizabeth Pidgeon), 1953; planning documents, correspondence, programs, schedules, photographs, etc., of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions' International Summer School for Women [Workers], held in France in June 1953; correspondence about, drafts and reference material for, and published versions of Women! It's Your Fight, Too!, a pamphlet by Peterson for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions comparing communist and "free" trade unions; and other.
The AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department papers include pay stubs; expense accounts; correspondence about travel arrangements; correspondence and reports of the Committee of Correspondence (affiliated with the National Council of Women of the United States); correspondence with various people in Utah, mostly re: political campaigns or the Mormon Church; personal correspondence; worksheets for the Fair Labor Standards Act and miscellany; and correspondence, printed material, etc., relating to Peterson's Democratic campaign work, mostly in 1960.
Series III, United States Government, 1961-1969 (#442-1354, 3450-3452), is divided into two main subseries: Peterson's work in the United States Department of Labor (USDL), and her work as the Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs (SAPCA). Each of these subseries has many subdivisions.
Relating to her work in the United States Department of Labor are correspondence, hearings, etc., about her appointments as director of the Women's Bureau and as the assistant secretary of labor; United States Department of Labor press releases about Peterson; daily appointment books, planners and calendars; internal memos about the reorganization of the Women's Bureau and other United States Department of Labor matters; office correspondence files arranged alphabetically by broad subject areas (e.g., Education, Press, etc.); other correspondence; papers about legislation, policies and programs (see below); conference materials; and publications and related papers. Files denoted as Department of Labor correspondence also includes speeches (by Peterson and others), minutes, newsletters, programs, printed materials, etc.
The correspondence files for "Engagements" are in their original order, usually by date of engagement (not by date of correspondence). In some years acceptances and regrets were filed separately, in others, interfiled. There is extensive overlap between this and all the other correspondence sequences. Included is information on meetings, and in some cases policies, of the United States Department of Labor, unions and other organizations; correspondence about congressional testimony and other speech-related notes (though most speech-related material is in Series IX); personal messages, notes, and some expressions of thanks.
The "Organizations" correspondence sequence is with "special organizations which Mrs. Peterson [was] a member of or had special contact with." The letters in the "Personal" and "Special personal" correspondence sequences were so designated by Peterson. For additional personal correspondence, see especially the "individuals" and "Sweden" sequences. Of particular interest is #485: "These papers (some ERA) deal largely with the difficult period of my leaving the White House job...."
There are six linear feet of papers covering legislation, programs, and policies specifically relating to women. The President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) records (#823-938, 3451) include the final report and press releases; photographs; background papers; correspondence; memos; drafts and final reports; general administrative files (correspondence, meeting arrangements, procedures, etc.); budget and personnel files; publicity; annotated lists of suggested members; Executive Orders; minutes; official "documents" of full President's Commission on the Status of Women meetings and of committee meetings; correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt; etc.
The Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women (ICSW) and the Citizens' Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW) records (#939-1007) include correspondence, drafts, meeting summaries, task force reports, final report, and correspondence about related meetings. In addition, there are records of state governors' commissions on the status of women, containing correspondence, memos, press releases, reports and recommendations, and some Peterson speeches; and a few items about the Canadian and UN Commissions on the Status of Women.
Related papers include those of the "top women" in government; Checkpoint Bridges (a proposal for a program for girls aged 16-18); and Project Reentry (for women reentering the work force). Papers about the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (#1030-1056) include correspondence, memos, bills and comparisons, supporting documents for Congressional hearings; hearings; Peterson's testimony; etc. Typescript and mimeographed copies of documents published in the hearing transcripts were discarded.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) papers (#1057-1061) include correspondence, memos, copies of congressional resolutions, draft statements, and printed material. Of particular interest is "EP's special file," which contains annotated copies of correspondence showing that the National Woman's Party tampered with a John F. Kennedy press release on equal rights before the 1960 election; correspondence about LBJ and the ERA; and EP's letters of 1971 and 1973 explaining why she changed from opposition to support of the ERA.
Papers about Executive Order 11246, amended as Executive Order 11375, were removed from a binder but left in their original order (#1064-1068). Covering the years 1965-1968, they consist of correspondence, memos, statistics, etc., about eliminating sex discrimination in federal employment, employment by federal contractors and subcontractors, and in federally-assisted construction. Peterson's disagreement over the omission of "sex" in the original order is documented, as are subsequent policy developments. There are related papers covering the Department of Labor's Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and its efforts to implement EO 11375 (1967-1968), as well as correspondence, memos, and clippings showing opposition to H.R. 2767 (allowing sex-based age discrimination in retirement plans).
H.R. 643, a bill "to provide equality of treatment for married women employees of the federal government...," is documented in five folders (#1071-1075) of analysis, correspondence, and related material, most 1967-1968.
The Title VII papers (#1076-1109) were in a reference/briefing book and a chronological run of correspondence, memos, etc. The briefing book, removed from the binder, includes correspondence, memos, analyses, etc. re: the relationship of Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, and state laws. The chronological run contains similar material. There are also printed bills, court cases, testimonies, government publications, etc.
The National Committee on Household Employment (NCHE) records (#1110-1135) include correspondence, memoranda, minutes, bylaws, project proposals, newsletters, etc. Arrangement and folder headings are those of the processor. The archive of the National Committee on Household Employment is in the Library of Congress.
The National Women's Committee for Civil Rights (NWCCR) records (#1136-1175) include organizational memoranda and lists; correspondence, memoranda; financial reports; drafts, notes; newsletters; and printed material about civil rights from other organizations. The National Women's Committee for Civil Rights was formed in July 1963, at the request of President Kennedy, to mobilize women's groups to support passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Chaired by Mildred McAfee Horton and Patricia Roberts Harris, the National Women's Committee for Civil Rights represented several million women, as individuals or through organizations. It disbanded on November 18, 1964.
Additional papers concerning labor legislation and policies contain correspondence and related material on the National Service Corps (#1178); labor standards (#1180-1183); volunteers (#1187-1190); Manpower Development programs (#1191-1192); the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1968 (#1193-1199), including a controversial pamphlet Peterson helped to develop; workmen's compensation, particularly in regard to uranium mining (#1206-1213); and several other issues.
Folders relating to conferences (#1214-1234) include correspondence, memos, reports, photographs, conference hand-outs, etc., for meetings attended by Peterson, in the United States and abroad. For additional papers relating to the 1961 Tunis trade fair, see Series I (#51-52).
The second main division, consumer work, documents Peterson's actions as the nation's first Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs. It contains publicity, reports, press releases, and other printed material; history (#1258-1271); correspondence and memos relating to issues and legislation, arranged alphabetically by topic; information about conferences and training sessions; voting records of House and Senate committees; correspondence and memos with the White House; correspondence and memos relating to the President's Committee on Consumer Interests and the Citizens Advisory Council; correspondence with consumers; and correspondence about EP's resignation as the Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs in 1967. Peterson battled many difficulties and obstacles from within and outside the Administration while trying to carry out her mandate. These battles, as well as her frustrations, are well documented.
Series IV, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (#1355-1465), is divided into two alphabetical correspondence files: individuals and organizations/subjects. Original folder headings and arrangement have been maintained, with one exception: individuals with more than a few letters were given their own folder. The original folder for the Public Interest Institute (#14321) was annotated, "Mrs. Peterson proposed the organization of an association which would act as spokesman in the public interest." In addition to Peterson's work for Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, her participation on the Voluntary Action by Women panel of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health (#1437-1443) is documented by correspondence, lists of panels, drafts, etc. There are also notes on meetings, and correspondence and photographs documenting her travel to Asia in 1969 on behalf of the United States State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (#1449-1465) to discuss women's employment, consumer affairs, and voluntary activities (see also Series I, #56-63).
Series V, Giant Food, Inc. (#1466-1737, 3517-3541), covers both business and personal pursuits during Peterson's years as Consumer Advisor to Giant. Business papers include internal memos and correspondence; documentation of various consumer initiatives that have become commonplace, including nutritional labeling and unit pricing; advertising; and publicity, including columns by Peterson. The chronological file of all outgoing 1975-1976 correspondence, business and personal, is organized as found, in reverse order within each folder. A few incoming letters are included. There are no letters for March 1975; a March 1978 note by Amy Jacoby of Peterson's staff states, "March '75 - pulled as arbitrary sample of 1 mo[nth]'s correspondence."
Personal papers, those not directly related to Giant business, include correspondence; speeches, government testimony; correspondence re: engagements, contributions to organizations, legislation, etc.; documentation of Peterson's outside consultancies; and papers relating to trips abroad.
Most correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or organization (#1549-1633), most notably the Ad Hoc Committee on the Human Rights and Genocide Treaties (#1549-1554); the Democratic Party (#1563-1592), including campaign correspondence, etc., for Edmund Muskie, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, and papers relating to the development of consumer policy for the Democratic Advisory Council of Elected Officials (DACEO); and the National Consumers' League (#1605-1617). Correspondence with family members, members of Congress, and White House staff was pulled and refiled in more appropriate folders (e.g., correspondence with family was moved to Series I). There are also correspondence folders arranged chronologically (#1634-1653).
Peterson's "outside" consultancies included work for various groups, most notably the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Women and Employment (#1654-1662), the Ford Foundation's report, Long Overdue: Full Partnership for Women in American Society (#1663-1665), and the General Motors Corporation (#1667-1673). Disagreements and problems with the Twentieth Century Fund's chapter on women and unions are well documented.
Series VI, United States Government, 1977-1981 (#1738-1953, 3453), contains papers about the governmental transitions in 1977 and 1981; history of various consumer initiatives during the Carter Administration; congratulatory correspondence on Peterson's appointment as Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs; publications; engagements; papers re: lobbying and legislation for a possible Cabinet-level consumer agency (see below); papers relating to the 1980 campaign; and personal correspondence.
The subject file, arranged alphabetically, includes information about consumer-related legislative and policy issues, correspondence with various organizations and individuals, and materials about trips to Japan, Korea, France, Ireland, and the Middle East (#1882-1892). The papers relating to the National Coalition for the Consumer Protection Agency (#1827-1854) contain financial records, information about supporters and opponents, voting records, leaflets, and press clippings. Check stubs contain complete financial information; canceled checks, bills, and deposit slips were discarded. Most folders are arranged in reverse chronological order, as found. There are also papers concerning Peterson's service to the 1981 White House Conference on Aging.
A large group of papers in this series relates to the unsuccessful attempt to obtain Cabinet-level status for an agency (referred to by various titles as the Office for Consumer Affairs, the Office of Consumer Advocacy, the Agency for Consumer Advocacy, the Office of Consumer Representation, the Agency for Consumer Protection, and the Consumer Protection Agency) to protect consumers and coordinate all government activities on their behalf. President Carter had supported the creation of such an agency throughout his 1976 campaign, and his April 6, 1977, Consumer Message reiterated his position. The agency would "plead the consumer's case within the government....It will not be another regulatory agency. Its purpose is to improve the way rules, regulations, and decisions are made and carried out, rather than issuing new rules, itself." Legislation was introduced several weeks later. Months of debate and intensive lobbying followed. The bill's defeat in the House of Representatives on February 8, 1978 (it passed the Senate) was one of Peterson's greatest disappointments. The financial power of big business opposition had overwhelmed the underfunded consumer activists. These papers clearly document the internal and external political struggles over the creation of such an agency. Folder contents frequently overlap. Included are Peterson's notes and reference material on the need for a consumer agency; her lobbying book; annotated versions of bills; head counts; correspondence and memos re: the bill's defeat and with the President and White House staff; decision memos about the reorganization of the Office of Consumer Affairs; and information about Executive Order 12160 (which established the Consumer Affairs Council) and its amendments; and clippings. Undated drafts have been filed as found.
The memos with the White House (#1906-1910) are primarily about political strategies for passing the legislation. The OCA (Office of Consumer Affairs or Office of Consumer Advocacy) reorganization memos and correspondence (#1917-1920) document disagreements over staffing, location (within the government), and responsibilities, as well as Peterson's difficulties with Joseph Califano, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
There are also papers relating to the 1980 Presidential campaign (#1930-1931); correspondence and memos re: pending issues and the transition to the Republican administration (#1921-1933); notes on the end of the Carter Administration and Peterson's Presidential Medal of Freedom (#1934); and a list of folders sent by Peterson to the Carter Presidential Library (#1935).
In addition, there are a few folders of personal correspondence arranged alphabetically (#1936-1947), including one each with Jimmy Carter, Clara Beyer, and re: lobbying to exonerate labor leader Joe Hill, several re: Mormons and the Equal Rights Amendment, etc.; and several folders arranged chronologically (#1948-50). There are also two folders of invitations, arranged alphabetically (#1951-1952), to serve on boards, councils, etc., and correspondence re: Peterson's resignations from them.
Series VII, 1980-1998 (#1954-2304, 3454-3504), contains correspondence, leaflets, etc., about issues, speaking engagements, projects, and so forth, and is divided into two main sections, one alphabetical and one chronological. There is some overlap between the two.
The alphabetical grouping is an integrated sequence of folders for individuals, organizations, and subjects: the Rita Heller documentary on the Bryn Mawr Summer School (#1980-1981, 2220, 3455); correspondence with Peace Corps volunteer Jane Becker about life in Poland (#1973); correspondence with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter (#1986-1988); material about the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns (#2013-1017); extensive information about infant formula, breast feeding, and the boycott of Nestle (#2045-2053); papers relating to International Medical Services for Health and the International Organization of Consumers' Unions (see below); letters of tribute and congratulations sent to Peterson for her 75th birthday party, sponsored by the National Consumers' League (#2125-2126), and for her 85th birthday, celebrated in Utah (#2027); correspondence about a homesharing proposal ("Matchmaking") for older Americans and refugees (#2108-2110); minutes and correspondence of the Rachel Carson Council (#2151-2153); speeches, correspondence and programs concerning various centenary celebrations of Eleanor Roosevelt's birth (#2158-2167); papers relating to Peterson's trips to Japan and South Africa (see below); correspondence and writings of Utah poet Helen Candland Stark (#2187-2188); and several folders about women's issues (#2217-2222).
International Medical Services for Health (INMED) is a non-profit foundation formed in 1986 to "help health agencies [in the developing world] plan and secure supplies of essential medicines, medical supplies and health education materials" in a timely, low-cost, predictable manner. Peterson served on the Board of Directors from its inception in 1986. There are bylaws, minutes, correspondence, and publications (#2055-2066).
The International Organization of Consumers' Unions (IOCU) is an independent, non-profit, non-political foundation begun in 1960 by consumer organizations in Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States. By the 1980s it had members from 120 organizations in over 50 countries. The IOCU is an official United Nations NGO, and has worked on curbing abuses by transnational corporations, especially in the areas of hazardous products, baby food, medicines, and pesticides. Peterson's service as the IOCU's UN representative (1983-1993) is documented in #2067-2091. There are articles, speeches and notes by Peterson; correspondence, etc., on various drugs and policies, and particularly on the United Nations Code on Transnational Corporations and the United Nations Guidelines for Global Business; and publications by the IOCU.
Peterson traveled to South Africa in November 1983 to present the Checkers Award for Consumer Journalism. In addition to notes for her speech and on conditions in South Africa, there are South African publications on apartheid, United States policy, and consumer issues, correspondence, and clippings (#2177-2186).
The chronological sequence (#2225-2277) consists mainly of carbon copies of outgoing letters, but also includes some incoming letters, leaflets, etc. Although there is little actual duplication, there is extensive overlap in correspondents and subjects with the alphabetical sequence, especially for the International Organization of Consumers' Unions.
Additional correspondence (#3466-3482, 3484-3504) for 1984-1998 with many of the individuals and organizations represented in previous folders was donated to the library in 2005. Most relates to Peterson's 90th birthday in 1996 (#3470-3477), and her death in December 1997 (#3484-3504).
There are also folders of Peterson's notes (#2278-2301), many not fully identified or dated; a folder of 1988 "daily task memos" for Peterson's assistant; and some telephone logs.
Series VIII, Writings by Esther Peterson (#2305-2336, 3542), contains correspondence with publishers and editors about articles and books, drafts, and published articles arranged chronologically. Of particular interest are two books apparently never published: one she worked on with Goody Solomon, "Consumers' Guide to a Service Economy," and typescripts drafted with Edward B. Cohen for publisher Reader's Digest, "Law for the Consumer."
Series IX, Speeches, testimony, and related material (#2337-3301, 3543-3608). Most folders contain a speech, in any or all of the following forms: a typed text, handwritten notes, an annotated typed text, speech cards, an outline, or drafts. She did not necessarily deliver the speech as written. Some speeches listed were never actually given. In a few cases, "speech" refers to the transcript of an interview for television or radio broadcast, or a speech jointly given by Peterson and another person. Press releases with excerpts of speeches are not considered speeches, nor are very brief handwritten notes or brief summaries of speech contents. Some speeches were revised and reused for different appearances. Many are heavily annotated by Peterson.
Related material includes correspondence, memos, press releases with excerpts of speeches, newspaper articles about the speech engagements or about Peterson, handwritten notes, and printed leaflets or programs about the event or the group to which Peterson was speaking. Most other reference material was discarded, including articles and government publications gathered by Peterson. Some correspondence includes discussions of issues and personal messages, overlapping correspondence in most other series. Clippings stapled into the text of the speech itself have been saved. Many duplicate speeches were discarded, but all versions with handwritten notes have been kept. There are also several folders of "Speech ideas" (#2886-2888): notes and annotated printed material.
Peterson traveled widely in the U.S. and overseas, delivering speeches to women's organizations, business and consumer groups, Democratic clubs, church and community groups, and government agencies and departments. She gave numerous college commencement addresses, keynote and other speeches at conferences, and campaign speeches at political rallies. She participated in conferences sponsored both by government and private organizations. The topics covered include consumer issues as well as labor, politics, education, civil rights, the status of women, and social welfare. More than half of the speeches were delivered in the 1960s, while Peterson was serving in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Testimony before both houses of Congress is filed in a separate chronological run.
The lists of speeches compiled by Peterson's staffs (#2337-2338, 3543) may serve as useful guides, but should be used with caution. Not all the speeches listed are in the collection, and some lists cite proposed speeches that were later canceled.
Speeches and testimony in #3544-3608 (overlooked when the collection was processed in 1999) were originally grouped in folders labeled "Speeches as given," since they are heavily annotated by Peterson. Most were organized chronologically, numbered, and listed by Peterson's staff at Giant Food (#3542). Although the speeches are now foldered individually and integrated chronologically in the existing finding aid, the original numbers have been transferred to the speeches by the archivist. Many of these listed speeches were already contained in the collection; duplicates bearing no annotations were discarded. Annotated versions replaced those without annotations in existing folders.
The original chronological order of the speeches has been retained. Most folder headings are those of Peterson, although some speeches from the 1970s originally arranged by subject were integrated into the existing chronological scheme. One can easily reconstruct these categories, however, by referring to the chronological and subject lists created by Peterson's staff (#2337-2338).
The following information is provided where known: 1) the name of the group to which the speech was addressed, 2) the location, and 3) the date. Many are untitled. Occasionally titles are listed, especially if the name of the group is not known. The exact dates of most speeches are known; incompletely dated or undated speeches are at the end of the section containing other papers of the same month, year, or decade, insofar as it can be determined.
Engagements for which there is only a small amount of material and no actual speech have been gathered into one folder with other engagements of the same year. "Engagements, 1966," e.g., is placed just before the January 1966 speeches.
Though the bulk of speech material is in this series, some correspondence relating to speeches is in Series III, "Engagements" (#524-578), and a few awards and citations are in (#5-7). Additional speeches or speech notes are in #223, 374, 401, 406, 476, 571, 701, 704, 710, 711, 787, 796, 813, 827, 978, 1003, 1006, 1085, 1217, 1289-1291, 1408, 1454, 1528, 1582, 1830, 1860, 1862, 1879, 1933, 1979, 2010, 2044, 2067, 2095, 2126, 2132, 2158, 2159, 2160, 2169, 2178-2179, 2209, 3437 and 3536.
Series X, Photographs (#3306-3403, 3505-3516), are grouped topically and chronologically as received. The archivist rearranged some photographs for the sake of consistency, and added loose photos to existing folders. Many are unidentified. Most of the photographs in this collection have been cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as parts of the documents they accompany. Photographs received after 1998 (#3505-3516) will be cataloged in VIA at a future date.



This is a selected index of correspondence from throughout the collection, prepared by volunteer Bert Hartry. It contains names of elected and appointed officials, activists in a variety of fields, and personal friends of Peterson when there are numerous letters. Names of organizations and institutions are included when there is significant documentation. In general, memos from staff members are not included. Numbers refer to file unit numbers in the finding aid.
Key: No symbol = Recipient; * = Writer and recipient; # = Writer

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