Oliver A. Peterson, 75, a retired Foreign Service officer and visiting professor at American University, died Thursday at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in Brattleboro, Vt. He had cancer and had undergone surgery last week for a broken hip.

Mr. Peterson and his wife, Esther Peterson, President Carter's special assistant for consumer affairs, had maintained a home in the Washington area since 1941. Mr. Peterson came here at that time as an official of the Office of Price Administration during World War ii.

After the war, he worked briefly with the sugar rationing program in the Department of Agriculture and then spent two years as a field representative for the privately financed Stimson Committee for the Marshall Plan.

He returned to government service in 1948 as one of the first labor attaches assigned to a U.S. embassy. He was stationed in Stockholm from 1948 to 1952, and in Brussels from 1952 to 1957. He then was reassigned to the State Department here as the labor adviser in the bureau of African affairs.

He retired in 1962 because of his health and underwent the first of several operations for cancer.

Despite his illness, Mr. Peterson remained an active outdoorsman and woodsman. He spent his summers at a remote family farm near Townshend, Vt., where he built outbuildings, remodeled the farmhouse and continued a strenuous life.

He also was a visiting professor at the School of International Service at American University and was for a time acting director of its program for overseas and international labor studies. He also was president of the International Development Corp., a private organization that assists foreign students and engages in related activites.

A luncheon at the Woman's National Democratic Club at which Mrs. Peterson was to be honored as "Democratic Woman of the Year" Thursday was cnceled because of Mr. Peterson's death.

Mr. Peterson was born in Crookston, Minn. He graduated from the University of North Dakato and later was the YMCA director at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa.

He and his wife met while they were graduate students at Columbia University in New York in the 1930s. At that time, Mr. Peterson also was assistant director of education at the Central YMCA in Brooklyn, N.Y. He later became a regional supervisor for the Works Progress Admininistration, a federal agency that helped create employment during the Great Depression.

In addition to his wife, of the homes in Washington and Townshend, survivors include a daughter, Karen Wilken, of Lesotho, Africa; three sons, Eric N., of Brooklyn, Iver E., of Detroit, and Lars E., of Washington, and five grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, Oliver A. Peterson, 1969