Judge Eileen R. Petersen, an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, was born on April 18, 1937, in Christiansted, Virgin Islands (VI), and reared in Free Gut to Anna Leevy and Hugo Petersen. She was a product of the island’s public schools, graduating from Christiansted Senior High School in 1954. Afterward, she received a scholarship to attend Hampton Institute (now University) in Hampton, Virginia, where she majored in English, thus receiving Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in 1958 and 1959, respectively. Upon returning to her native land, Petersen taught at the islands’ only public high school from 1959 to 1963 before returning to further her education and the desire to become a lawyer. She earned a Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC, in 1966. Afterward, she was admitted to practice law in D.C. In 1969, Petersen studied toward a Master of Labor Law degree at George Washington University Law Center.
Upon returning home, Petersen became a member of the VI Bar Association, and from 1970 to 1971, she served as an Assistant Attorney General. In 1971, she became the first woman to be appointed judge in the territory of the Virgin Islands of the United States by the VI Governor Melvin Evans. Being the first in that position, when she walked down those small, narrowed Caribbean streets, people would point their fingers at her because seeing a female judge was unusual. Her swearing-in as a judge was even nontraditional in that a robe and the lack of guests representing the legal fraternity had yet to be ordered for the occasion.
In 1990, Petersen was chairman of a panel on Family Law at the World Peace through Law Conference held in Beijing, China. In 2005, Petersen was inducted into the Virgin Islands Women’s Hall of Fame.
After retiring as the VI Superior Court judge in 1992, Petersen was appointed the first Chair of the VI Casino Control Commission. In 2018, the VI Legislature voted and approved Bill No. 32-0193-An Act to honor and commend the Honorable Judge Eileen R. Peterson for her community and legal work by naming the building that houses the Casino Control Commission in her honor.
A member of the Mu Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the Honorable Eileen R. Petersen died on April 25, 2023, in Christiansted, Virgin Islands. She was 86.