Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection

Document Type

Oral History

Publication Date


Interview Number

MOH 158


Peter Jonitis was born in West Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1913. He was the son of Lithuanian immigrants, John and Alice Jonitis. His father came to the U.S. in 1910 and his mother in 1911. His father worked in the paper mills on Nashua River, specifically operating the boilers burning coal. His mother worked at a woolen mill as a metal picker and cleaner. He attended Ashburnham Street School and Commerce High in Worcester. In high school he ran cross country. He attended Clark University and while there worked at the National Youth Authority. He was in the Boys’ Club in Worcester and was wrestling champ citywide. He attended graduate school at Columbia University and while at Columbia, worked nights as an oxygen therapist. During World War II he was head of the Army orientation program. He became an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania while he worked towards his Ph.D. and was chairman of the Sociology Department at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. In 1952 he was a post-doctoral guest scholar in Russian research at Harvard University. He did research for the State Department under the sponsorship of the Rand Corporation. He came to Lewiston in 1953 and while at Bates he was involved in the Democratic Party, the NAACP, and the PTA. He was at Bates from 1953-1967. He worked with John Donovan and Edmund Muskie in the 1950s. He introduced the Anthropology Department to Bates. He received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Taiwan from 1964-1965. After Bates he had a fellowship at Haverford College where he wrote extensively on Early American Quaker Penology. He then went to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, FL for seven years. He moved back to Lewiston in 1980 and served as Corrections Advisor for the Androscoggin County jail in the Sheriff’s office. His wife is Elizabeth Jonitis, who also was interviewed for this project (MOH 159).

Scope and Content Note

Interview includes discussions of: environmental protection; interaction with Muskie while running American Friends Service Committee building; Democratic platform policy on Native Americans; paper mills in Fitchburg, MA on Nashua River; Clark University; Army orientation program; Quaker church in Durham, Maine; Bates College helping to improve Catholic/Protestant relationships; economic development; youth crime/violence; Bates College under president Donald Harward; Frye Street Union; Lewiston Quakers Church; and the state prison in Warren, Maine: 800-person addition to super max prison.

Use Restrictions

Copyright Bates College. This transcript is provided for individual Research Purposes Only; for all other uses, including publication, reproduction and quotation beyond fair use, permission must be obtained in writing from: The Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, 70 Campus Avenue, Lewiston, Maine 04240-6018.