Esther Eggertsen grew up in a Mormon family in Provo, Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 1927 with a degree in physical education. She obtained master's degree from Teachers' College, Columbia University, in 1930. She held several teaching positions during the 1930s. She taught at Bryn Mawr College Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. The school brought milliners, telephone operators and garment workers onto the campus. She later moved to New York City where she married Oliver Peterson. In 1932, the two moved to Boston, where she taught at the Winsor School and volunteered at the YWCA. Peterson was a Latter-day Saint.
In 1938, Peterson became a paid organizer for the American Federation of Teachers. In her job she traveled around New England. In 1944, Peterson became the first lobbyist for the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. In 1948, the United States Department of State offered Peterson’s husband a position as a diplomat in Sweden. The family returned to Washington D.C., in 1957. Peterson joined the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, becoming its first woman lobbyist.
Peterson was Assistant Secretary of Labor. She was also Director of the United States Women's Bureau under President John F. Kennedy. Peterson worked hard to help get the Equal Pay Act of 1963 passed into law. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson named Peterson to the newly created post of Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs. She later served as President Jimmy Carter's Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs. Peterson was also Vice President for Consumer Affairs at Giant Food Corporation. She was also president of the National Consumers League.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981.[a] Peterson was named a delegate to the United Nations as a UNESCO representative in 1993. In 2013, Esther Peterson was inducted into the US Department of Labor's Hall of Honor.
Peterson died in December 1997.
- Molotsky, Irvin (22 December 1997). "Esther Peterson Dies at 91; Worked to Help Consumers". The New York Times. New York: NYTC. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
- Michale K. Winder, Presidents and Prophets (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2007), p. 337
- Rocking the Boat: Union Women's Voices, 1915-1975, eds. Brigid O'Farrell; Joyce L. Kornbluh (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press,1996), p. 58
- "Esther Peterson To Be Elevated". The Sumpter Daily Item. January 3, 1964. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
- Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History, Volume 1, ed. Eric Arnesen (New York; Oxford: Routledge, 2007), p. 1079
- "Hall of Honor Inductee". U.S. Department of Labor. 2013. Archived from the original on 25 December 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2012.