Mary Louise Anneberg was born on February 18, 1929, in Carroll, Iowa, to Dr. and Mrs. Walter Anneberg. The valedictorian of Carroll High School Class of 1947, Anneberg continued her academic career at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa). In 1951, Anneberg graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts. She married H. Rand Petersen in February 1951. They had four children: Lynn, Allen, Katherine, and Steve.
Mary Louise Petersen was appointed to the Iowa State Board of Regents in 1969 and served as president from 1973 to 1981. She belonged to a number of other organizations, including the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities. She served on the board of trustees for the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Petersen was also active in Girl Scouts, the United Methodist Church, and the Republican party.
Petersen was honored with the Harlan Community Leadership Award in 1969. In 1983, she won both the State of Iowa Distinguished Service Award and the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Service Award.
Copied in its entirety from the introductory biographical statement to an inventory of Mary Louise Petersen's papers in the Iowa Women's Archives.