Monday, March 12, 2012
Esther Eggersten Peterson
If you're an American and you've bought something from a grocery store in the past 30 years, your life has been impacted by Esther Peterson. Under her leadership, Giant supermarkets were the first major retailer to introduce many of the ideas we take for granted – price-per-unit labels, sell-by dates, nutrition labels, and generic drugs – and she successfully used government-level positions to make them national standards. That makes her noteworthy enough in my opinion, but that's just the tip of the iceberg for the work that she's accomplished.
Esther worked with more prominent labor unions than I have the motivation to count. She held powerful positions for four different presidents – JFK appointed her to be the director of the Women's bureau in the Labor Department, LBJ kept her in that position and also made her the country's first special assistant for consumer affairs, Carter named her the special assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, and Clinton made her a UN delegate. She served under Eleanor Roosevelt as the executive vice-chair for the president's United States Commission on the Status of Women. She received the Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for “profound contributions to humanity.” She worked hard in the women's rights movement. And in each of these capacities, she worked hard, ethically, and effectively.
Some might consider Esther borderline for including in this blog, as she rarely attended church meetings in her adult life. I'm counting her not only because she considered herself a Mormon, but she has stated that she felt her life work rose out of her Mormonism. She's particularly cited the lyrics of two LDS hymns as guiding her life: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow” and “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not I have failed indeed.” She knew that it was important to look beyond herself and serve others. I love that about her. I'm one that quietly rages about the problems with the world. She took on the world, and nudged it along.
So now I have a reminder to do good every time I check to see if that yogurt in the back of my fridge is still edible.
“Esther Peterson dies at 91; worked to help consumers” by Irvin Molotsky. NYT, December 22, 1997.
“Esther Eggersten Peterson: The most dangerous thing since Genghis Khan” by Carma Wadly. In Worth Their Salt, Too. Edited by Colleen Whitley. USU Press, Logan, Utah 2000.