David Broder and Elly Peterson

Yesterday I attended a wonderful gathering to celebrate the life of my former Washington Post colleague, David S. Broder.  David played an important role in my decision to write a book about Elly Peterson in the first place.

On December 15, 1970, when Peterson retired as assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee, Broder wrote a column devoted to assessing Peterson’s career.  He said,  “It is, I think, accurate to say that [Peterson’s] abilities would have earned her the national chairmanship, were it not for the unwritten sex barrier both parties have erected around that job. Certainly, her organizational talents made her views as respected and her advice as sought-after among her colleagues in the party as anyone in the past decade.”

Broder added, “One basic problem all talented women face is the tendency of the parties to shunt them off to some preserve of tea-party irrelevancies called ‘women’s activities.’ Mrs. Peterson. . . fiercely resisted stereotyping and by sheer energy and capability won her right to operate at the full range of her talents.”

“It was Mrs. Peterson’s fate to serve on the National Committee staff in periods which were hardly conducive to her own brand of progressive Republicanism. . . ,” Broder concluded.  “But hard-headed as she is, Mrs. Peterson would say you should expect to be frustrated in many of your hopes if you get involved in politics.”

When I later reviewed Peterson’s personal papers at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, I discovered that she and Broder had continued to correspond with each other after she left the RNC. A week after his column appeared, he wrote her that it had been “from the heart, and, if I were sentimental, would have said more.”

Broder graciously granted me an interview a few months after I began my research into Peterson’s life. On that occasion, he observed that Peterson’s  key “skill” was her personality. “She had a real warmth, a sense of personal caring that gave her an ability to establish personal bonds with people who might not be inclined to agree with her.  I don’t know where in her past it came from, but she had that in abundance. She was fun to be around.”

The same could certainly be said of David Broder.  Click here for coverage of  the memorial gathering.


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