Elizabeth Peterson: Peace and Social Justice Activist, 1920-2009


Dave Dellinger and Elizabeth Peterson, 1998

Toward Freedom is saddened at the passing of our former board member and dear friend Elizabeth Peterson. She and her husband Dave Dellinger were devoted members of the Toward Freedom board during the 1990’s, and made the long trek from Peachum, VT to Burlington in fair weather and foul to support our publication, and later, this website. We will remember her grace, and smile that emanated from a place within, above the terrors and hardships of this world. She ‘crossed the river’ peacefully on September 17, 2009. – Robin Lloyd, Toward Freedom Publisher

Elizabeth Peterson, 89, died peacefully at Otsego Manor with her family by her side on September 17, 2009. She died with beauty and grace succumbing to colon cancer, after a courageous and successful battle with lymphoma a year earlier.

Elizabeth was born July 23, 1920 in Fort Worth, Texas, the daughter of Walter & Bessie Peterson, a Presbyterian Minister and Physical Education teacher. Growing up during the Depression, the family moved many times during her childhood. She paid for her own college tuition by living with families and cleaning their homes. Early in life, Elizabeth made the commitment to work for justice and equality for all people.

She met her husband of 62 years, David Dellinger, at a peace and justice conference and as Elizabeth described it, it was love at first sight. They quickly recognized their shared life commitment to work for social justice and after a short courtship, were married by Elizabeth’s father in his parish in Seattle, WA on February 4, 1942. They hitchhiked cross-country to begin their life and work together and lived in a Christian community in Newark, NJ.


Elizabeth and Dave Arrested for Protesting VT Yankee Nuclear Plant

David and Elizabeth later moved to a small farm in rural New Jersey to start a pacifist community where they published and printed Liberation Magazine. There, they raised their five children, Patch, Ray, Natasha, Daniel and Michele, and adopted a sixth, Howie, a young man from a nearby Catholic orphanage. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Elizabeth was a feminist, working, going to school, and raising a family. She taught elementary school on an emergency certificate while attending night classes to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She provided for her family on the farm by making butter, baking bread, and raising chickens, cows and pigs and tending a vegetable garden. Elizabeth cleaned people’s houses and sold her homemade bread to pay for her children’s music lessons.

In 1968, Elizabeth’s husband, David, participated in protests at the Democratic Convention and was subsequently charged for Conspiracy to Incite a Riot in the now famous Chicago 8 trial. Following the social disruptions and protests of the Vietnam War era and the consequent persecution of the family, Elizabeth and David left their community and relocated to Brooklyn, New York. Elizabeth continued her education, obtaining her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and worked as a supervising social worker and educational consultant at Talbot Perkins Children’s Services.

In 1981, David and Elizabeth moved to Peacham, Vermont and continued their political activities fighting for peace and social justice, particularly in the areas of prisoners’ rights and a living wage. She and David were invited to high schools and colleges throughout the country to speak about their life’s work of revolutionary non-violence. Elizabeth returned to her work as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and later worked as an advocate for the elderly. She also was a Hospice volunteer and was a member of her church choir.

In 2005, following the death of her husband, Elizabeth moved to Westford, NY to live with her oldest daughter and son-in-law, Natasha and Leonard Singer. She joined the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oneonta and loved singing in the choir. Elizabeth remained active in her work for peace, protesting the war in Iraq. She was diagnosed with lymphoma in April 2007 and successfully endured chemotherapy at the age of 87 and entered remission. In February 2008, Elizabeth moved into Otsego Manor, where she became active in the residents’ council, art class, and Christian Women’s Group. She began a reading group where she read to the residents who could no longer see. She loved her new family at the Manor and felt well loved there. This summer, Elizabeth was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer.

Elizabeth was pre-deceased by her sons Raymond Sundance and Daniel Dellinger, and five grandchildren, Michele Barnett, Christopher McDonough, Benjamin Sundance, Fiske Douglas, Justin Dellinger, as well as her two brothers Jack and Walter Peterson. Elizabeth is survived by two sons, Evan Patchen Dellinger and his wife Lissa Dellinger of Seattle, WA, and Howard Douglas and his wife Betty Douglas of Nazareth, PA; two daughters, Natasha Dellinger Singer and her husband Leonard Singer of Westford, NY; and Michele McDonough Dellinger and her husband Daniel Clifton of New York, NY; seven grandchildren, Kira Dellinger Vol, Seth Dellinger, Shenandoah Sundance, Tania Horton, David McDonough, Megan McDonough, Jennifer Singer and nine great-grandchildren.

Elizabeth always credited her abiding Christian faith, an important presence in her life until the very end, with giving her the strength to meet the trials and challenges in her life. Elizabeth wanted to be remembered as a worker for peace and justice, a caretaker for others, and who considered every human being her sister and brother. Elizabeth was an amazing wife, mother, grandmother, sister, teacher, Christian, feminist, volunteer, pacifist, and organizer. Her strength, vitality, beauty, courage, generosity, and commitment to social justice and peace, among many other things, will stay in our hearts, minds, and actions forever.

A Memorial Service will take place at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Friday, October 16, 2009 at 7pm with a reception to follow. Contributions in her honor may be made to the Activities Fund at Otsego Manor, Cooperstown, NY 13326 and Catskill Area Hospice & Palliative Care, 1 Birchwood Drive, Oneonta, NY 13820.