Elly M. Peterson

Elly M. Peterson

Elly M. Peterson
Born June 5, 1914
Died June 9, 2008
Nationality American
Occupation Politician

Elly M. Peterson (June 5, 1914 – June 9, 2008), also known as "Mrs. W. Merritt Peterson", was an American politician from Charlotte, Eaton County, Michigan. She was married to the late Colonel W. M. Peterson and was an overseas Red Cross volunteer in World War II. She was an officer in the American Cancer Society, an active member of the Congregational Church, American Legion Auxiliary, a lifetime member of the NAACP, and a 1984 inductee into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. She attended what is now William Woods University in Fulton, Mo.


She was vice chairman of the Philip Hart, particularly in a year with her party divided over its presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. Winning just 35.3 percent of the vote, she nevertheless bettered Goldwater's tally in Michigan—33.1 percent—and did so with little funds; to accomplish that much was a tribute to her energy, organization and down-to-earth appeal.

In 1965, she became the first woman to serve as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. She was also the first woman in U.S. History to chair a Republican state central committee, which she did from 1965-69. The Michigan Political History Society eventually selected Elly Peterson as the best Republican state chairman in the last fifty years. She was assistant to the chairman of the Republican National Committeefrom 1969-71.

Eventually Peterson conceded she'd become an independent. She laughed that "I recently received a call from a Republican group saying they wanted her in a directory of important Republican women, and I had to tell them they needed to do their homework better." In her last year, she was a supporter of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, both as a feminist and because she didn't feel America's residual racial prejudices would allow Barack Obama to win.

Political Positions

She worked to elect Romney as governor and his lieutenant governor, William Milliken, who succeeded him when Romney became joined the cabinet of President Richard Nixon as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1969.

At the Republican National Committee, Peterson was a strong advocate for outreach, empowerment, fence-mending and organization. She continued the practices that had made her effective as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Inquisitive and probing, she was also quick to laugh and often referred to as "mother" by her interns, such as Christine Todd Whitman. Friendly and un-dogmatic, while in Washington she shared a house with the prominent Democrat Liz Carpenter, who'd been press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson and a speech-writer for Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

An egalitarian by philosophy and example, Peterson was a national co-chairwoman of Equal Rights Amendment ratified. Peterson also strongly supported abortion rights and was a charter member in the National Women's Political Caucus. At this time, in the early 1970s, the conservative wing of the Republican Party was beginning to create friction with the liberal members, Peterson amongst them. She successfully battled to keep Phyllis Schlafly from seizing control of the National Federation of Republican Women, but she was experiencing reduced affinity with the Republican National Convention platform and by 1983 endorsed James Blanchard, the Democrat running for governor of Michigan, rather than the conservative Republican.


  • obitWashington Post
  • The Political Graveyard
  • articleBoston Globe2005
  • http://www.minutemanmedia.org/MIM%20060904.htm
  • http://www.minutemanmedia.org/MIM%20032404.htm
  • obitDetroit News
Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur G. Elliott, Jr.
Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party
Succeeded by
William F. McLaughlin