‘Woman Power — Our Great Resource for Progress’ Lecture by Esther Peterson on the University of Utah Campus

By Casey Stevenson


A portrait of Esther Peterson, assistant secretary of labor, taken by a Salt Lake Tribune photographer for a March 1962 issue of the newspaper.

Esther Peterson, a former Utah resident, who made so many significant contributions on behalf of workers, consumers and women in so many diverse areas, including government, civic and business. Peterson was a forceful lobbyist and had been the assistant secretary of labor under President Kennedy. She came to The University of Utah to give a lecture that took place on March 1, 1962, it was titled, “Women Power – Our Great Resource for Progress.” Peterson wrote in her article, “Change and Challenge to Women in Education, “my concern lies with the new needs of students, particularly girls and young women, whose problems are far different from those of their mothers’ generation,” which greatly correlates with her topic for her University of Utah lecture. She was interested in what the people had to say, and any chance she got to get insight on pending proposals she took advantage of. With these traits Peterson had, nobody was surprised when she titled her autobiography Restless.

The Daily Utah Chronicle reported on February 27, 1962, that the talk would be held in the Orson Spencer Hall auditorium, under the auspices of the University faculty women. Her position as the assistant secretary of labor and director of the U.S. Women’s Bureau was mentioned as well as her position as the assistant director of education. The former Utah resident was also was an advisor to the United States delegation at the International Labor Organization Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

On February 28, 1962, the Daily Utah Chronicle wrote about Peterson’s devotion to the labor movement and education, and after 12 years of teaching was appointed director of education for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Formerly she was the legislative representative of the Industrial Union Department of AFL-CIO. She was involved in other abroad experiences including serving in Sweden to study labor market policy and labor management relations.

It was reported by the Daily Utah Chronicle, on March 1, 1962, that Peterson would be presenting that night on campus. It was explained that after her 12-year teaching career, she had several posts with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America from 1939 to 1948. She had been accompanied while abroad by her husband who was a foreign service officer. Oliver A. Peterson was also a labor advisor in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs.


A photo of Esther Peterson and colleagues, taken by a Salt Lake Tribune photographer for a September 1961 issue of the newspaper.

Again, on March 1, 1962, the day of Peterson’s visit to the University of Utah, the Daily Utah Chronicle wrote another article about Peterson and her position. They reported that her visit is taking place just three weeks after President Kennedy’s first meeting about the newly established Commission on the Status of Women. Peterson’s concern is with women, college women in particular. She was being brought to the University as an example of someone who is a successful wife and mother but who is also quite the intellectual and contribution to society. She is being placed as an example for young women to strive to have an intellectual and meaningful life after she is done having children. The chronicle wrote that average women’s life expectancy after her youngest child is grown, was only 30 years. After their child is grown women are left wondering if she is even useful anymore. Peterson’s example was being portrayed as one to follow for young college women of her time.

The day following Peterson’s visit, March 2, 1962, the Daily Utah Chronicle wrote an article about the event. Peterson emphasized that, “our great resource for progress in womanpower.” She’s trying to explain that college is a huge investment and that she doesn’t want to see women’s usefulness be wasted after they receive their cap and gown. Her lecture was given to a select audience of civic and educational leaders of the state.

An article in the Davis County Clipper, written on January 24, 1964 explains that as Peterson was already one of the most well-known women in Washington, she would soon be the best-known woman throughout the entire nation. She was also the highest government office of her gender at the time and is only getting more popular. She held three major positions one including the position that was previously held by the late Eleanor Roosevelt, executive vice chairman of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. At the time of the article, Peterson had just been assigned by President Kennedy to ensure that the consumers voices are heard and effective in the highest council of the federal government.

Esther Peterson was a successful director of education, assistant secretary of labor, director of the U.S. Women’s Bureau, legislative representative of the Industrial Union Department, just to name a few of her accomplishments and her undeniable personality and care for the people had a huge impact on the people around the country. Her message speaks loud and clear, don’t take your education lightly, it is an investment so don’t waste it. Use this privilege we have to an education and make a difference in the lives of the people around you. Make sure your usefulness doesn’t run out.

Casey Stevenson is a sophomore at The University of Utah. She is majoring in strategic communication.

Primary Sources

Labor Official Sets Talk on ‘Woman Power,’” Daily Utah Chronicle, February 26, 1962, 1.

Woman-Power Topics Labor Official’s Talk,” Daily Utah Chronicle, February 28, 1962, 1.

Former Utahn Readies ‘Power’ Talk,” Daily Utah Chronicle, March 1, 1962, 1.

Climate Of Unexpectation…,” Daily Utah Chronicle, March 1, 1962, 2.

Jan Peterson, “Womanpower: Resource For Future Progress,” Daily Utah Chronicle, March 2, 1962, 1.

Bert Mills, “Esther Peterson Becomes Well Known,” Davis County Clipper, January 24, 1964, 6.

Secondary Source

Peterson, Esther. “Change and Challenge to Women in Education.” Educational Horizon 42, no. 2 (Winter 1963): 52-59