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Guide to the Donald O.​ Peterson Papers,​ 1947-​1980

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Summary Information

Title: Donald O. Peterson Papers

Inclusive Dates: 1947-1980 (bulk 1967-1972)

Creator: Peterson, Donald O., 1925-

Call Number: Eau Claire Mss BB; M90-285; M2006-119

Quantity: 4.0 c.f. (4 record center cartons) and 1 reel of microfilm (35 mm)

Repository: This collection is managed jointly by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Library-Archives Division and the Eau Claire Area Research Center.

Archival Locations: UW-Eau Claire McIntyre Library / Eau Claire Area Research Ctr.

Abstract: Papers, mainly 1967-1972, of Donald O. Peterson, a liberal leader of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. The papers document Peterson's work in state and national Democratic party politics and reform initiatives. Major subjects include Peterson's leadership of Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign in Wisconsin (available only on microfilm); his participation in the New Democratic Coalition (1968-1973), the Commission on Rules of the Democratic National Committee (1969-1972), and the Democratic Charter Commission (1973-1974); and his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1970. Also of interest is material on Peterson's involvement with George McGovern's 1962 senatorial campaign and Edmund Muskie's 1972 presidential campaign.

Note: Portions of this collection are available only on microfilm.

Language: English

Search Terms/Subject Terms

  • McCarthy, Eugene J., 1916-2005
  • McGovern, George S. (George Stanley), 1922-
  • Democratic Party (U.S.)
  • Democratic Party (Wis.)
  • New Democratic Coalition (U.S.)
  • Elections—Wisconsin—1970
  • Presidents—United States--Election—1968 Presidents—United States—Election—1972
  • United States—Politics and government
  • Wisconsin—Politics and government


Donald Oliver Peterson, a liberal leader of the anti-Vietnam War faction of the Wisconsin Democratic Party during the late 1960s and early 1970s, was born in Renville, Minnesota, on March 9, 1925. He graduated from high school in Minneapolis in 1943, and served in the South Pacific during World War II as a navigator with the Army Air Force. After the war, he attended the University of Minnesota from 1946 to 1947 with a major in engineering and then spent an additional year studying economics at Macalester College. In 1948, he left school to go into the petroleum trucking business with his father. When the business was sold in 1954, Peterson became a salesman with the Standard Oil Company in Minnesota. From 1957 through 1962, he was a sales representative with the Foster-Bell Company of Aberdeen, South Dakota. In 1963 he moved to Wisconsin as a law book salesman. Later he began working in the food products industry, becoming general sales manager and executive vice president of Black River Dairy Products, Inc. and eventually vice president of Dadco Food Products of Eau Claire.

Although a prominent businessman, Peterson is best known for his activities within the Democratic Party. He began his political life while in his twenties as a member of the Young Democrats and as a precinct committeeman in the Minnesota Democratic Farm Labor Party. In 1962, he managed George McGovern's senatorial campaign in South Dakota. After moving to Wisconsin, Peterson continued his political activity in the Americans for Democratic Action, of which he was Wisconsin chairman and national board member. From 1967 to 1968, he was chairman of the l0th District Democratic organization. During the late 1960s, Peterson emerged as a leader of the state Democrats opposed to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and in 1967, he helped to organize

Concerned Wisconsin Democrats that eventually grew into the National Conference of Concerned Democrats. In this capacity, Peterson was instrumental in persuading Senator Eugene McCarthy to enter the 1968 presidential race. As co-chair of the Wisconsin McCarthy for President Committee and chairman of the Wisconsin delegation to the national convention, Peterson gained national recognition as a leader of the protest against the more conservative members of the party organization. In addition, Peterson spoke out on the floor of the National Convention against the actions of the Chicago police in regard to peace demonstrations that took place during the convention, and he led a dramatic march by members of the delegation to protest the police actions. After McCarthy lost the presidential nomination, Peterson declined the suggestion by some McCarthy supporters that his own name be placed in nomination for the vice-presidency.

Peterson remained extremely active in politics on both the local and national level for the next six years. He was co-founder, co-chair, and national steering committee member of the New Democratic Coalition, a national organization formed after the 1968 convention by dissatisfied members of the party who were committed to making it more responsive to its members. Peterson also worked for reform as a member of two special commissions of the national organization. From 1969 to 1972, he was a member of the Commission on Rules (also known as the O'Hara Commission), which was organized to evaluate the party's convention rules and recommend changes to the National Committee prior to the 1972 convention. From 1973 to 1974, Peterson worked as a member of the Charter Commission (also known as the Sanford Commission), a group authorized by the 1972 convention to formulate a national constitution for the party.

Maintaining no personal interest in elective office, Peterson declined to run for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket in 1968. However, two years later, he ran unsuccessfully for the gubernatorial nomination against Patrick J. Lucey. The two men differed little on issues, and the race was considered a contest between the long-time party activists and the newcomers. From 1971 through 1976, Peterson was national committeeman for Wisconsin. For reasons arising from his work in the 1962 senatorial campaign, Peterson did not support McGovern in the 1972 presidential primary, instead working as Midwest coordinator for Edmund Muskie. In 1974, Peterson was a delegate to the Conference on Democratic Party Organization and Policy.

Arrangement of the Materials

This collection was received in multiple parts from the donor(s) and is organized into 3 major parts. These materials have not been physically interfiled and researchers might need to consult more than one part to locate similar materials.

  • Part 1 (Eau Claire Mss BB): Original Collection, 1960-1974
  • Part 2 (M90-285): Additions, 1947-1980 (Located in Madison)
  • Part 3 (M2006-119): Additions, 1968-1970 (Located in Madison)

Administrative/Restriction Information

Acquisition Information

Presented by Donald O. Peterson, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1969-2006. Accession Number: M69-235, M73-397, M75-354, M90-285, M2006-119

Processing Information

Original Collection processed by Kathy Oggins (archives intern) and Carolyn J. Mattern, 1986.

Contents List

Eau Claire Mss BBPart 1 (Eau Claire Mss BB): Original Collection, 1960-1974 Physical Description: 4.0 c.f. (4 record center cartons) and 1 reel of microfilm (35 mm) Scope and Content Note The papers consist of correspondence, memoranda, policy papers and drafts, minutes, clippings, and other informational material documenting Peterson's political activities from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. Except for occasional references, there is no material on his business career. The collection, which is arranged as an alphabetical subject file, contains extensive documentation on Peterson's activities as chairman of the Wisconsin McCarthy for President Campaign, his work for reform within the national party organization, and his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign. The Wisconsin McCarthy for President file, loaned for microfilming by Peterson in 1969, includes campaign and administrative materials such as position papers, campaign literature, and delegate correspondence. There are also two large files of letters from the general public received by Peterson after the events of the national convention in Chicago. This microfilm complements the Wisconsin McCarthy for President collection donated to the Archives by co-chair Michael Bleicher. Peterson's work for organizational reform is documented in the files on the New Democratic Coalition, which are comprised primarily of correspondence and memoranda, as well as in the files on each of the reform commissions on which he worked. While primarily containing correspondence and memoranda, the files from the Commission on Rules also include records of hearings, as well as drafts and material on proposed rules. Similarly, the Charter Commission files contain correspondence, memoranda, papers from national meetings and state conferences, and charter drafts. Also in the collection are files relating to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, ranging from Peterson's tenure as l0th District chairman and national committeeman for Wisconsin, to his 1970 gubernatorial campaign. Material on the latter is extensive and includes speeches, position papers and background information; press releases; and a large file of newspaper clippings. Of special interest is a small-file of correspondence with George McGovern, which provides interesting sidelights on Peterson's early break with the senator, and material on his leadership of the Midwestern campaign for Edmund Muskie in 1972. Photographs received with the collection have been filed in the name files of the Visual Materials Archive.
Box/Folder 1/1Biographical material, undated

Americans for Democratic Action
Box/Folder 1/2Correspondence and memoranda, 1968-1972

Box/Folder 1/31965-1968
Box/Folder 1/41966 convention
Box/Folder 1/5Center for Political Reform, 1972

Charter (Sanford) Commission
Box/Folder 1/6-7Correspondence, charter drafts, 1973-1974
Box/Folder 1/8-10Meetings, 1973
Box/Folder 1/11-12State conferences, 1973-1974
Box/Folder 1/13-15Wisconsin Charter Commission, 1973-1974
Box/Folder 1/16Charter draft conference, 1974 March
Box/Folder 1/17-20Clippings, biographical, 1967-1972
Box/Folder 1/21Coalition for an Open Convention, 1968
Box/Folder 1/22Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection (McGovern-Fraser Commission), 1969-1973

Commission on Rules of the Democratic National Committee (O'Hara Commission)
Box/Folder 1/23-27Correspondence, 1969-1972
Box/Folder 1/28-32Hearings material, 1969-1970
Box/Folder 1/33Issues paper draft, 1969
Box/Folder 1/34Joint meeting of O'Hara and Fraser commission, 1971 November
Box/Folder 1/35Notes, undated

Proposed rules
Box/Folder 2/1Apportionment, 1969-1971
Box/Folder 2/2Convention procedures, 1971
Box/Folder 2/3Democratic National Committee, 1971
Box/Folder 2/4Logistics, 1970
Box/Folder 2/5-6Standing committees, 1970-1971
Box/Folder 2/7Concerned Wisconsin Democrats, 1967-1968

Conference on Democratic Party Organization and Policy (Democratic Midterm Conference), 1974

Arrangements Committee
Box/Folder 2/8Correspondence
Box/Folder 2/9-10Meetings
Box/Folder 2/11Subcommittee on Media
Box/Folder 2/12-13Charter draft and amendments
Box/Folder 2/14Coalition for a Democratic Majority
Box/Folder 2/15Democratic Planning Group
Box/Folder 2/16Miscellany
Box/Folder 2/17Notes
Box/Folder 2/18-31Correspondence, general, 1963-1972
Box/Folder 2/32Cudahy, Richard D., 1968
Box/Folder 2/33Cunningham, George, 1963
Box/Folder 2/34Democratic National Committee
Box/Folder 3/1-6Correspondence and memoranda, 1969-1972
Box/Folder 3/7Executive Committee meeting, 1971 October
Box/Folder 3/8-9Democratic National Committeeman campaign, 1971- 1972

Democratic National Convention
Box/Folder 3/10-11Correspondence and memoranda, 1968, 1972

Credential challenges, 1972
Box/Folder 3/12Chicago
Box/Folder 3/13Wisconsin

Democratic Party of Wisconsin
Box/Folder 3/14-16Correspondence and memoranda, 1967-1972
Box/Folder 3/17State convention, 1970-1972
Box/Folder 3/18Third Congressional District, 1972

Tenth Congressional District
Box/Folder 3/19-20Conventions, 1968-1969
Box/Folder 3/21Executive Committee, 1967-1969
Box/Folder 3/22-26County organizations, 1967-1968
Box/Folder 3/27Durand, John, 1968
Box/Folder 3/28Fort Howard Paper Company (pollution suit), 1970-1971
Box/Folder 3/29Fries, David, 1968

Gubernatorial campaign, 1969-1970
Box/Folder 3/30Brochures and flyers

Box/Folder 3/31Eighteen-year-old voting
Box/Folder 3/32Government reorganization
Box/Folder 3/33Labor
Box/Folder 3/34Letters to the editor
Box/Folder 3/35Local committees
Box/Folder 3/36Lucey, Patrick
Box/Folder 3/37Maier, Henry
Box/Folder 3/38McCarthy endorsement
Box/Folder 3/39Migrant workers
Box/Folder 3/40Miniskirts
Box/Folder 3/41Motorcade
Box/Folder 3/42Oster Company
Box/Folder 3/43Peterson, Bobbi
Box/Folder 3/44Peterson-Lucey debate, 1970 July
Box/Folder 3/45Racine
Box/Folder 3/46Rockfests
Box/Folder 3/47State Fair
Box/Folder 3/48Students and youth
Box/Folder 3/49Sykes, Jay
Box/Folder 3/50Taxes
Box/Folder 3/51Tourism
Box/Folder 3/52TV appearance with Lucey, 1970 September
Box/Folder 3/53TV spending reforms
Box/Folder 3/54Vietnam
Box/Folder 3/55Welfare
Box/Folder 3/56Wisconsin Education Association
Box/Folder 3/47Zablocki, Clement
Box/Folder 3/58-60Chronological file, 1969-1970
Box/Folder 3-61Papers regarding beginning of campaign
Box/Folder 3/62Press releases
Box/Folder 3-63Schedules


Background material and position papers
Box/Folder 3/64Abortion
Box/Folder 3/65Automobile insurance
Box/Folder 3/66Campus unrest
Box/Folder 3/67Crime and police
Box/Folder 3/68Drugs
Box/Folder 3/69Education
Box/Folder 3/70Speech for Wisconsin Education Association
Box/Folder 3/71Government reorganization
Box/Folder 3/72Migrant labor and minority rights
Box/Folder 3/73Nuclear energy and pollution
Box/Folder 3/74Prison reform
Box/Folder 3/75Taxes
Box/Folder 3/76Tourism
Box/Folder 4/1Transportation and urban affairs
Box/Folder 4/2Vietnam
Box/Folder 4/3Welfare (Speech for Wisconsin Public Workers Association), 1970 June
Box/Folder 4/4Welfare, health, and Social Security
Box/Folder 4/5Miscellany
Box/Folder 4/6Drafts and reading copies
Box/Folder 4/7Critiques
Box/Folder 4/8Notes and outlines
Box/Folder 4/9Thank you letters to supporters
Box/Folder 4/10Guggenheim, Charles, 1963-1965
Box/Folder 4/11Hanson, J. Louis, 1967-1968
Box/Folder 4/12Hughes, Harold, 1970-1973
Box/Folder 4/13Humphrey, Hubert H., 1964-1972
Box/Folder 4/14Independent Voters of Illinois, 1968
Box/Folder 4/15Kastenmeier, Robert, 1968
Box/Folder 4/16Kaufman, Arnold S., circa 1968
Box/Folder 4/17Kelly, Paul, 1966
Box/Folder 4/18Kennedy, Robert F., 1968
Box/Folder 4/19La Follette, Bronson, 1967-1968
Box/Folder 4/20Lowenstein, Al, 1967-1969
Box/Folder 4/21Maier, Henry, 1973
Box/Folder 4/22Maiers, Harold, 1968
Box/Folder 4/23McCarthy, Eugene J., 1969-1972
Eau Claire Micro 23/Micro 433McCarthy for President, 1967-1968 (filmed without counter)
Reel 1Committee correspondence
Reel 1Delegates and related correspondence
Reel 1Finances
Reel 1Media budget
Reel 1Literature and campaign material
Reel 1Local Wisconsin headquarters
Reel 1National staff
Reel 1Position papers, The Record, et cetera

Post-convention correspondence
Reel 1Pro
Reel 1Con
Reel 1Primary results
Reel 1Releases
Reel 1State organizations
Reel 1Women's vote
Reel 1Miscellany
Eau Claire Mss BB Box 4 Folder 24Miscellaneous correspondence
Box/Folder 4/25McGovern, George, 1960-1972
Box/Folder 4/26Michigan Conference of Concerned Democrats, 1968
Box/Folder 4/27Mitchell, Steven, 1968-1972
Box/Folder 4/28Muskie, Edmund, 1971-1972
Box/Folder 4/29Nelson, Gaylord, 1964-1968

New Democratic Coalition
Box/Folder 4/30-38Correspondence and memoranda, 1968-1973
Box/Folder 4/39Hiring subcommittee, 1969
Box/Folder 4/40Independent Democratic Coalition, Illinois affiliate, 1969
Box/Folder 4/41National conference, 1970
Box/Folder 4/42Nikolay, Jack, 1969
Box/Folder 4/43O'Brien, Joyce, circa 1970
Box/Folder 4/44O'Konski, Alvin, 1967-1968
Box/Folder 4/45Proxmire, William, 1964
Box/Folder 4/46Reuss, Henry, 1968
Box/Folder 4/47Schlesinger conference on national political conventions, 1969
Box/Folder 4/48-49Slate vs. McFetridge, 1968-1971
Box/Folder 4/50South Dakota--McCarthy for President, 1968
Box/Folder 4/51Speeches, 1968-1970, undated
Box/Folder 4/52Vietnam miscellany, 1967-1968
Box/Folder 4/53-54Voter registration, 1971-1972
Box/Folder 4/55Warshafsky, Ted, 1968-1972
Box/Folder 4/56Wisconsin presidential primary law, 1969
Box/Folder 4/57Wisconsin presidential selection committee, 1971-1972
Box/Folder 4/58WTMJ