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Arvonne Fraser, who blazed her own trail as women’s rights advocate, dies at 92

August 8, 2018

Arvonne Fraser, a trailblazer for women’s rights for decades in Minneapolis and around the world, and the wife of former Mayor and U.S. Rep. Don Fraser, has died. She was 92.

Fraser’s son, Tom, said his mother was at their riverside family retreat late Tuesday morning along the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River when she “took her last breath on the beach surrounded by family and friends — the way she wanted to go.” For his entire life, Tom Fraser said, he saw firsthand in his parents a partnership that stretched from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., and back to Minneapolis.

“My mother ran all of his campaigns and never lost a one, starting in 1954 in the state Senate and on through to Congress,” where Don Fraser served as a Democratic member of the House from 1963 to 1979.

Tom Fraser remembered how the family’s house in Washington “became basically a hostel for the antiwar movement and women’s rights. My father would talk about how carefully he would have to step when he came home at night because there were bodies all over the floor.”

Don Fraser went on to serve as mayor of Minneapolis from 1980 to 1993. George Latimer, the former longtime mayor of St. Paul and political kindred spirit to the Frasers, said Arvonne Fraser was “from beginning to last feisty, strong-willed, brave.”

In 1986, Arvonne Fraser was Latimer’s running mate in his bid for governor; they lost the DFL primary. He said he admired her for being “more interested in what’s the right path rather than looking good or sounding good. And her career reflects that.”

In her memoir entitled “She’s No Lady,” Arvonne Fraser wrote about the causes she held dear.

“I’m most grateful for the progress the women’s movement made here in the U.S. and internationally,” she wrote. She later went on: “The world has changed in both small and significant ways during my lifetime.”

Fraser put aside partisan sentiments in 1999, when she publicly backed Gov. Jesse Ventura’s pitch for a salary for Minnesota’s first lady.

“As the wife of a longtime public official, my first reaction when I read the story was: ‘Good for you. I didn’t vote for you, but now I almost wish I had,’ ” she wrote of the independent governor.

Fraser’s ample resume included a post at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, director of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch and co-founder of the school’s Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy. Most recently, she was a senior fellow at the Humphrey School.

In 1976, Fraser headed up the Carter-Mondale presidential campaign in the Upper Midwest. After they won, she served as director of the Office of Women in Development at the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, and was a member of the U.S. delegations to the first two U.N. World Conferences on Women.

Born Arvonne Skelton in Lamberton, Minn., in 1925, she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota. She and Don Fraser married in 1950, and they worked together in his long string of election victories.

Along with her husband and son Tom, Arvonne Fraser is survived by children Mary Mac, John and Jean; sister Bonnie Skelton; and seven grandchildren. Preceding her in death were daughters Lois (Yoyo) and Annie. Arrangements and services are pending.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement Tuesday night that the city “has lost a legend and I have lost a friend.”

Frey praised Fraser as “a staunch advocate for international human rights, a feminist, an urbanist, and consistently ahead of the curve. ‘Wife to Don Fraser’ does not do her justice. Anyone that knew Arvonne knew she was a co-pilot in every sense of the word.”

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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