Throughout her life, Esther Peterson has been a powerful and effective catalyst for change – for the labor movement, the women’s movement and the consumer movement.
Peterson joined the staff of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in the late l930s and later became the effective legislative representative of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department. In 1961, she had her pick of positions in the Kennedy Administration and chose to head the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor. As Assistant Secretary of Labor, she achieved the creation of the first presidential commission on women, headed initially by Eleanor Roosevelt. This pioneering group for the first time focused federal attention on the status and condition of women in the workplace. Peterson served Presidents Johnson and Carter as adviser in consumer affairs.
She continued to work actively in international affairs. On the occasion of her honoring by Radcliffe College, Peterson said, “We have a tremendous responsibility to future generations to leave an accurate record of our history, one which lays bare not only the facts, but the process of change.”