Linda H. Peterson, a pioneer of campus writing opportunities, a widely published scholar of Victorian literature and the longtime editor of the staple English nonfiction anthology “The Norton Reader,” died peacefully last month on campus after a battle with cancer that spanned several years. She was 66 years old.
A 38-year veteran professor of Yale’s English Department, Peterson focused her research on 19th Century British literature. She authored, co-authored or edited nearly a dozen books, published countless articles and papers and received several prestigious fellowships. In the final weeks of her life, she remained dedicated to her field, working as editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Literature.
A staunch supporter of undergraduate writing, Peterson helped create English 120, “perennially one of the college’s most successful courses,” according to English Department chair Langdon Hammer. Alongside her husband, Fred Strebeigh, a senior lecturer in the English Department, she gave shape to the journalism and creative writing curriculum as it developed over the years. She also served as co-director of the Bass Writing Program in Yale College for a total of 24 years, from 1979 to 1989 and 1990 to 2004. Outside of Yale, Peterson served as the president of the National Council of Writing Program Administrators.
Peterson taught a wide array of classes, including the classic creative writing lecture “Daily Themes” and a seminar on nature writing, which she was originally slated to teach this fall.
She also spent seven years as the chair of the English Department, overseeing renovations to Linsly-Chittenden Hall in 2000, and several years each as the director of undergraduate studies and director of graduate studies. In 2004, before the appointment of current University President Peter Salovey to the position of Yale College Dean, some suspected that Peterson would be tapped for the position.
“As an administrator, she was meticulous, active and hard-working, very serious about precedents and procedure, and both very fair-minded and very effective,” Hammer said. “Few professors have done as much for the university in as many roles.”
One of Peterson’s many roles was as a mentor, both to students and to fellow faculty. She played a crucial role in improving the Ph.D. program, and she worked tirelessly to guide graduate students, both her own advisees and others, in their fledgling careers. English professor Ruth Yeazell, her colleague of 24 years, said Peterson always made a point of introducing graduate students to important figures in the field when attending conferences, “not from a sense of official responsibility; she just did it.”
Peterson’s legacy will continue to serve the graduate students that she would normally have mentored. At her request, there will be no funeral. Instead, Peterson’s colleagues have put together a fund honoring her, which will support graduate student travel for research and conferences.
Many who worked with her called the fund a fitting remembrance of Peterson, who devoted herself to graduate students. She herself smiled when she heard the idea, colleagues said.
“A lot of people in academia who have some of what Linda had — they’re great writers, or great teachers — but the combination is actually rare,” Yeazell said. “She’ll really be missed.”
Peterson is survived by her mother, Martha Haenlein Boese, her husband, Strebeigh, and her three younger sisters: Deborah Haenlein Kile, Carla Haenlein Piazza and Kristy Haenlein Taylor.