Uncle Dave's book

Monday, August 11, 2014

52 Ancestors #31: Elizabeth Peterson, my Aunt Betty

     Elizabeth Peterson was born Frances Elizabeth Peterson on 23 Jul 1920 in Fort Worth, Texas.  She was named Elizabeth for her mother, Elizabeth Hudson and her great grandmother, Elizabeth Buck. I don't know where the Frances came from, though. Her father was Walter L. Peterson, at the time a Physical Education Director with the YMCA. The family moved to Detroit and from there to Chicago where Walter entered McCormick Seminary to become a Minister. So Betty (as she was called by the family) would've seen her father follow his conscience and her mother work hard to support his choice. A pattern she followed in her own life. The Seminary happened during the Depression and Betty was sent for a year to live with her mother's parents in Fort Worth which she was not happy about. She graduated from High School in Bessemer, Michigan and earned her tuition for college by living with families and cleaning their homes.

     Around 1941, she attended a Christian Peace and Justice Conference and met David Dellinger. The two recognized their shared commitment to peace and social justice and soon were engaged to be married. Her father married them in his church in Seattle on 4 Feb 1942. After the wedding they hitchhiked across country to live in a Christian Community in Newark, New Jersey. I find it quite remarkable that she was willing to do that. In 1943 Dave was convicted of draft evasion due to his pacifist convictions and sentenced to three years in a Maximum security prison.  Betty was pregnant with their first child who was born 2 Jan 1944. He was named Evan Patchen, the Patchen being for their friend, the poet, Kenneth Patchen. He has been known as Patchen for his entire life as far as I know. Can you imagine your first child being born while your husband is in jail not for any crime but for a personal belief?

    Sometime in here she converted to Catholicism, I don't know if Dave did as well or not. They had four more children, Raymond, Natasha, Daniel and Michelle. They lived in a pacifist community in rural New Jersey where they published and printed Liberation magazine. Elizabeth worked, went to school and raised her family.  She taught on an Emergency certificate while completing her Bachelor's Degree in Education. While on the farm she baked bread, raised chickens, cows and pigs and tended a vegetable garden. She also cleaned people's houses and sold her bread to raise money for the children's music lessons.

     In the 60's her husband was very active in the anti-war movement, culminating in his being one of the famous Chicago 7 in 1968. It must have been very stressful to have watch your husband in court and see your young daughters screaming at the judge and being carried out of court by the marshals.

     In the 70's they moved to Brooklyn, New York. Elizabeth got involved in the Women's Liberation movement.  She insisted on being Elizabeth not Betty (this was hard for her family to do, we'd been calling her Betty all her life!). She went back to her maiden name, Peterson, and didn't want to be known as Dellinger any more.  She moved into her own apartment in the same building that Dave lived in. This is really all I know, told to me by my father and mother but it seems like a pivotal time in her life. She also got her Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and worked as a social worker and consultant.

    In 1981, she and Dave moved to Peacham, Vermont. This was a quieter life although they both gave talks around the country.  She worked as a teacher and volunteered for Hospice and sang in the Church choir. In 1982' she visited me in San Francisco and met my daughter.  In 1985' her brother Jack died and she, her brother Wally and my sister and I all were together for his Memorial Service. In 1988' her son Raymond died in Berkeley and she and Dave visited me after the Memorial Service. These visits were all special to me because she was such a lovely person it just made you happy to be with her.

    In his last years Dave battled Alzheimers and that was hard on her.  He died in 2004. My sister, children and I attended his Memorial Service in New York City and were able to spend some time with Elizabeth. She reminded me a great deal of her mother, my grandmother. She was warm, fun, and alive, and very very sweet! She said she was thinking of writing her autobiography, to tell her side of the story. I really hoped she would because it would've been well worth reading! However, she died (with "beauty and grace" according to the Caledonian Record) on 17 Sep 2009 at the age of 89. Near the end of her life she joined the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oneonta, New York.  This would've made her brother, Jack, and his ex-wife, Margaret (my parents)very happy!

     Here is what the Caledonian Record said about her in the obituary they published on 23 Sept 2009:

"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...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."

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