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University Relations

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July 19, 2006
Contact: Todd Cohen, University Relations, (785) 864-8858.

University mourns KU graduate, former dean of women Martha Peterson

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway issued the following statement in response to the death Friday of KU graduate Martha Peterson, a pioneer for women in higher education and corporate America who served as dean of women at KU. Peterson, 90, died at her home in Madison, Wis. The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Emily Taylor Women’s Resource Center at KU.

Chancellor Hemenway:
“Martha Peterson was an outstanding educator who was widely recognized for her thoughtful leadership in higher education circles. She never forgot KU and often used ideas from her Kansas experience to provide remedies to problems that she found elsewhere. The university was honored by her in many ways.”

William Crowe, librarian at the Spencer Research Library:

“Martha was a very special woman — of high accomplishment but with a down-to-earth quality that always reflected her Kansas upbringing and education.”


A native of Jamestown, located in north-central Kansas near Concordia, Peterson graduated from Salina High School in 1933 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics in 1937 and 1943 at KU. While working on her doctoral degree in educational psychology and counseling, which she completed in 1959, she was an instructor in the KU mathematics department (1942 to 1952), assistant dean of women (1947 to 1952) and dean of women (1952 to 1956.) During her tenure, she was credited with the installation of the dormitory system for freshmen women at KU. She left KU in 1956 to become the dean of women at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Before beginning her trailblazing career in higher education, she taught high school for several years in Stockton and Ellinwood.

Peterson was the first woman to serve on the board of directors of Exxon, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and Dry Dock Savings Bank. She was president of Barnard College in New York from 1967 to 1975 and the first woman president of Beloit College in Wisconsin from 1975 to 1981.

She was inducted into KU’s Women’s Hall of Fame in 1972 and received KU’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Citation, in 1968. She also received the KU School of Education’s Apple Award in 1993. She donated her extensive papers to KU’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library in 1998.


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