Arvonne Skelton Fraser, leading national voice on women’s issues

Women’s rights leader Arvonne Skelton Fraser died on August 7, 2018. A New York Times article states “Arvonne Fraser, a leading voice on women’s issues in Minnesota, nationally and abroad from the early days of second-wave feminism into the 21st century, died on Tuesday [August 7, 2018] in Hudson, Wis. She was 92.”

Fraser, her husband Congressman Donald M. Fraser, and their children lived in a Tiber Island townhouse at 4th and N St., SW during the 1960’s and 1970’s. With the growing national interest in women’s issues, Fraser and several women friends brought brown bag lunches to her home in 1969 to discuss “women’s subordinate status in American society.” That was a milestone for Fraser.

“More than twenty women showed up at my Tiber Island townhouse one lovely spring day in 1969,” Fraser wrote in her memoir. “Ranging in age from early thirties to seventies, many were wives of elected or appointed officials, diplomats or newspaper reporters.”

Chafing at the fact that they were always introduced as “the wife of…,” they decided to call themselves The Nameless Sisterhood.

That meeting started an impressive career in women’s rights for Fraser, which included:

  • Forming a DC chapter of the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL),
  • Serving as WEAL’s national president,
  • Being appointed to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women,
  • Being a delegate to two United Nations World Conferences on Women,
  • Being director of the Office of Women in Development in President Jimmy Carter’s administration,
  • Organizing and operating the International Women’s Rights Action Watch, to spread information on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and
  • Being a co-founder of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and serving as a Senior Fellow.


Fraser’s scholarly writings on women’s issues in books, articles and official documents will remain on bookshelves and in libraries worldwide. Her 2007 memoir reminds us that at the same time as championing these causes, she and Congressman Fraser raised six children. There are many Congressional documents, U.S. laws, actions of the United Nations, and women’s activities fostered in other nations that all contain important contributions by Arvonne Fraser.

Her family and friends will certainly treasure the memory of her smile, her laugh and her winning personality. Millions more worldwide are being affected by Fraser’s trailblazing leadership in women’s rights.

BY Dale MacIver


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