Columbia University Archives

William E. Petersen papers, 1968 July-August

Summary Information


This collection is comprised of one diary, personal documents, writings, and correspondence all having to do with the Columbia University Disturbances of 1968.

At a Glance

Call No.: UA#0163
Bib ID 8328524 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Petersen, William E., 1906-1985
Title William E. Petersen papers, 1968 July-August
Physical Description .21 linear feet (1 half-sized document box)
Language(s) English .

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.



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.

Preferred Citation

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Office of the Secretary, Marion E. Jemmott. Method of acquisition--Transfer; Date of acquisition--1985.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Vanessa Cano, Pratt Institute 2011.

Finding aid written by Vanessa Cano January 2011.

Revision Description

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.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Alumni Federation of Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Administration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Alumni and alumnae -- Societies, etc. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Student strike, 1968 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Students Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Students -- Political activity Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Trustees Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cordier, Andrew W (Andrew Wellington), 1901-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kirk, Grayson L. (Grayson Louis), 1903-1997 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

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.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only Columbia affiliates may view materials on-site. After clicking 'Submit Request', affiliates will login with their UNI and password. Appointments are required and will be arranged according to each individual repository's policy.

William E. Petersen, Chairman, Columbia Disturbances. July-, August 1968

Box 1 Folder 1 Diary, 1968

(Log of events following riots)

Box 1 Folder 2 Writings, 1966-1968

(Collection of documents regarding the riots.)

Box 1 Folder 3 Correspondence and Personal Documents, 1968, 1985, 1968, 1985

(Handwritten notes, letters, etc. regarding restructuring process after riots. Mostly interdepartmental. )