Remembering Arvonne Fraser, Women’s Rights Advocate and Humphrey School Fellow

August 9, 2018
Arvonne and Don Fraser standing outside with the Mississippi River in the background
Arvonne and Don Fraser in 2017, outside their Minneapolis home. (Photo courtesy of AFSCME Council 5)

Arvonne Fraser, who died on August 7, 2018 at age 92, is remembered for her lifelong advocacy for women’s rights and longtime involvement with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs as co-founder of the School’s Center on Women and Public Policy.

She and her husband of 68 years, former Congressman and Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser, were active in Minnesota politics for decades and have been strong supporters of the Humphrey School.

“Arvonne Fraser was a remarkable woman who contributed so much to the advancement of women’s rights,” Dean Laura Bloomberg said. “I’m grateful to Arvonne and Don Fraser for sharing so much of their lives with legions of Minnesotans as they’ve worked tirelessly for the common good.”

Fraser joined the Humphrey School in 1982 as a senior fellow, and shortly afterward she began working with other women leaders in Minnesota to establish the Center on Women and Public Policy (now known as the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy)—the nation’s first complete teaching, research, and outreach center devoted to women and public policy.  

“It is significant that Arvonne, with her vast network of connections in the community, was one of the co-founders of the Center,” said Debra Fitzpatrick, the Center’s community engagement director. “The Center’s mission—to place equal emphasis on academic research and community engagement—came from the start, from Arvonne’s example.”

Arvonne Fraser standing next to Walter Mondale
Fraser with Walter Mondale at her 90th birthday celebration in 2015.

Her influence was felt far beyond Minnesota; Fraser championed women’s rights on an international stage as director of the International Women's Rights Action Watch, which she founded in 1985. She also served as ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and director of the Office of Women in Development at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Fraser, who earned her degree from the University of Minnesota, received the University’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 2007.

“Not many people can claim with any legitimacy to have truly changed the world. Arvonne Fraser is one of the few who can,” wrote former dean Brian Atwood in his letter nominating Fraser for the award. “Over the span of several decades, Arvonne has done groundbreaking work at the international level, illuminating the transformation that still needs to be made in the system to allow women’s rights to be viewed as simply human rights.”

After a lifetime of work, though, Fraser wasn’t satisfied. At her 90th birthday celebration in 2015, she gave a speech to a crowd of family, friends, and admirers that was titled, “Unfinished Business.” 

The 20th-century women’s movement concentrated on eliminating discrimination against women in education, employment, and the law, she said. "But there's much more to be done. As with any revolution, what follows is the hard part — changing the culture."

The "unfinished women's movement agenda" includes issues such as economic security, sexual harassment, violence against women, and fairness in the workplace, she said. "The work that remains in the 21st century is enough to engage all of us — men and women — if we believe in democracy."

Read more about Arvonne Fraser’s life and legacy in the Star Tribune.