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Jan Peterson interviewed by Martha Ackelsberg, January 23-24, 2006

 File — Box: 39

Scope and Contents

This interview is particularly rich in describing Peterson's involvement with the multiple social movements of the 1960s and 1970s that profoundly altered her life and the lives of many of her generation-especially the civil rights, welfare rights, and women's movements in New York City. It demonstrates the ways her involvement with each affected the others, and the close-often profoundly painful-connections and tensions between the "personal" and the "political" that roiled those movements during those years. The oral history also contains fascinating and detailed reflections on her own growth as an organizer, on the meanings of politics and democracy, on the difficulties of organizing as the larger political context and funding opportunities changed, and on the difficulties-and the opportunities-offered by working in groups that consistently attempt to bridge differences, of race, ethnicity, and class. (Transcript 148 pp.)

Dates of Materials

  • January 23-24, 2006


Conditions Governing Access

This interview is not available for research use because it is closed at the direction of the narrator permanently. Special Collections staff will seek a renegotiation of these terms. Please consult with special collections staff at to inquire about whether this interview may be opened.

Conditions Governing Web Access

At the direction of the narrator, this interview may not be placed on the web because it is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

The interviewer and narrator have transferred copyright of this interview to Smith College.

Biographical / Historical

Born in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1941, Jan (Janice) Peterson is a long-time organizer of neighborhood-based, grassroots, working-class women's organizations. She founded the National Congress of Neighborhood Women in 1974 and GROOTS (Grassroots Women Organizing Together in Sisterhood) in 1989, and she is a prime mover of the Huairou Commission. Peterson is a creative, charismatic, and forceful leader who has managed to bridge what often appear to be not only gaps, but abysses, between neighborhood women and foundations, working-class and middle-class women's organizations, ethnic women and feminist organizations, and the like.

Peterson lived in the Milwaukee area through high school and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1963. She spent the following year (1963-64) in New York City, where she became involved with CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality). After a brief time in Wisconsin in 1964, she returned to New York in 1966, where she became involved in Mobilization for Youth. In 1969, she moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she began the work that eventually resulted in the founding of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW). During those years Peterson was also involved with the women's movement in New York City, including NOW, the October 17th group, and New York Radical Feminists. In 1977, she went to Washington, D.C., serving as an assistant to Midge Costanza in the Carter White House. Since the 1980s, Peterson has been involved in a variety of community-based and women's community development organizations, and has increasingly moved into the international arena, becoming active in UN and UN-related organizations. She is now helping to steer the organizations that remain affiliated with the NCNW into a network of "living-learning centers."

Language of Materials


Related Materials

The National Congress of Neighborhood Women Records are available for research at Smith College Special Collections. Another oral history of Peterson is in the New York City Women Community Activists Oral History Project.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063