In memoriam: Linda H. Peterson, noted scholar and writing mentor

Linda H. Peterson, the Niel Gray Jr. Professor of English, died on June 25, after a long battle with cancer. She was 66 years old.

Linda H. Peterson

A member of the Yale faculty for 38 years, Peterson was a scholar of Victorian prose and an authority on life-writing — women’s writing in particular. Her books include “Victorian Autobiography” (1986), “Traditions of Victorian Women’s Autobiography” (1999) and “Becoming a Woman of Letters” (2009). Despite her illness, she recently completed her work as editor of the “Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Writing.”

A former chair of the English department, Peterson was a mentor to many young faculty and played a key role in strengthening the Ph.D. program. With her husband, Fred Strebeigh, senior lecturer in the English department and at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Peterson guided the development of the curriculum in creative writing and journalism. She was co-director of the Bass Writing Program in Yale College 1979–1989 and 1990–2004. She taught “Daily Themes,” “English 120,” and “Nature Writing.” 

Her interest in non-fiction led to her work as general editor of “The Norton Reader,” a staple text for instructors of writing in the United States and beyond. She oversaw five editions of “The Norton Reader,” from 1996 through the current edition

“Linda’s untimely passing is a great loss,” wrote Langdon Hammer, professor and chair of the English department, in an email announcing her death. “She has been a leader in the Yale English department for almost 40 years, including seven years as department chair. Her good sense and profound civility have deeply shaped who we are and how we do things as a department faculty, always for the better. Beyond the English department, there are few professors in any department who have served Yale in as many capacities over as long a period.”

Peterson earned a B.A. in literature at Wheaton College, a M.A. in English at the University of Rhode Island, and a Ph.D. in English at Brown University. She joined the Yale faculty in 1977 and rose through the ranks, becoming the Niel Gray Jr. Professor in 2002. She served on several department and university committees, and continued to do so through this last year.

She received Morse and Mellon fellowships from Yale, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is a life fellow of Clare Hall at Cambridge University. Quinnipiac University awarded her an honorary degree in 2004. A past president of the National Council of Writing Program Administrators, she was also a member of the Modern Language Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her mother, Martha Haenlein Boese; and her three younger sisters, Deborah Haenlein Kile, Carla Haenlein Piazza, and Kristy Haenlein Taylor.

At her request, there will be no funeral. Colleagues are creating a fund in her honor to support travel by graduate students to conduct research and attend conferences. A memorial celebrating the publication of the “Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Writing” will take place near the book’s publication in late 2015.

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