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Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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At a Glance
The records are in one series arranged in three folders.
This collection is comprised of papers collected by William E. Petersen recording his role in choosing a new president for Columbia University following the Columbia Disturbances of 1968.
The collection is comprised of one notebook, personal documents, writings, and correspondence. Most items are from the summer of 1968, following the Columbia Disturbances. There are very few that proceed these months, except for photocopies of a 1966-67 "Who's Who" (presumably for hiring purposes) and Grayson Kirk's CV (1967).
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection has no restrictions.
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); William E. Petersen Papers; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Selected Related Material-- at Columbia
Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Records, Columbia University Archives.
University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999, Columbia University Archives.
Police on Campus Collection, 1968, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Temple Lilly Special Committee Records, 1968-1971, Columbia University Archives.
No additions are expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed Vanessa Cano, Pratt Institute 2011.
Finding aid written by Vanessa Cano January 2011.
2011-02-10 File created.
2011-05-05 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
William E. Petersen was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 20, 1906. He attended high school at Erasmus Hall High School. After graduation Petersen served as an officer in the Naval Reserve during World War II.
Petersen attended Columbia College and was active for four years on the student newspaper"The Spectator." In his last year he served as the papers business manager, and for "The Columbian" the college year book. He was also a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, Alpha Kappa Psi, and Phi Sigma Kappa. His allegiance to Columbia University would be life long. In 1957 Petersen was awarded the Alumni Medal for conspicuous alumni service.
After graduation from the Columbia Graduate School of Business (1927), Petersen became associated with the Irving Trust Company (1928), where he advanced through various divisions to become senior vice president in 1957, and president in 1960. He became vice chairman in 1970.
At Columbia he served as Ambassador in the College Development Program (1947-1948), as Class Chairman of the Fourth College Fund (1954-1955), as a member of the Columbia College Council (1961-1965), and as Chairman of the Committee of Budget of the Council (1962-1963). Petersen also served for 10 years on the Standing Committee of the Graduate School of Business, as President of the Alumni Association of the School (1950-1952), general chairman of the Alumni Fund for Student Aid (1960-1962), member of the Advisory Committee (1961-1967), member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Columbia University, Chairman of the Advisory Board for the forum (1961-1962), Chairman of Columbia Business Associates, and Chairman of the Alumni Major Gifts Committee as well as member of the Advanced Gifts Committee for the new Columbia-Community Gymnasium. Petersen was elected an Alumni Trustee of the University and was elected a Life Trustee in 1967 which was followed by his election as Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 1968. He served as Chairman until 1978 when he retired from the Board and became Trustee Emeritus. In 1982 the Board elected him as Chairman Emeritus retroactive to October 1978.
It is during the period that Petersen was elected a Life Trustee of Columbia University that the Columbia Disturbances occurred. They began in early March 1967 when a student activist named Bob Feldman of the Columbia University Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) discovered documents in the International Law Library detailing Columbia's institutional affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). The discovery of the IDA documents touched off numerous demonstrations, ranging from anti-war to race relations. Controversial faculty members were forced to resign or left on their own behalf, most notably the President of Columbia University, Grayson Kirk. William Petersen would play an important role in rebuilding Columbia in the aftermath of the riots, especially in selecting a new president for Columbia University. His documentation of these processes forms the basis of this collection.
Petersen's other achievements include: being elected a member of the board of directors of West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company in September 1967, two terms as President of the Greater New York Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and honorary degrees given by Clarkson University (for which he also served as a trustee).
Petersen passed away in Bronxville, New York, in 1985. He was survived by his wife Sara Louise Snell Petersen and two children, William Hollis Petersen and Sara P. Buell.