Founded on the Belief in the Strength and Potential of People of All Abilities
Louise Whitbeck Fraser – Innovator, Survivor, Mom
By any measure, Louise Whitbeck Fraser lived an extraordinary life. She was orphaned by age 3, widowed when her husband — a federal agent — was killed during an investigation, and lost 2 of her 4 children to tragedy: her 3-year-old son fell from a moving car, and her eldest daughter died from a staph infection.
Before she lost her husband and children, Louise faced another devastation in 1920. Her 6-week-old daughter Jean contracted spinal meningitis. Jean survived, but after her recovery, her behavior was erratic, and doctors diagnosed her as mentally handicapped.
Like many mothers facing a challenge for their child, Louise started searching for answers. She took Jean to the University of Minnesota for tests and discovered that Jean was mostly deaf, but not handicapped. Her behavior was the result of not being able to hear conversation.
Necessity as the Mother of Invention
Louise knew what future lay ahead for her daughter: people with special needs were often institutionalized and little, if any, effort was made to educate them. So she put her daughter on the waiting list for an opening at the school for the deaf.
During the interim, Louise started teaching Jean at home. Louise had her teaching certificate, and she used music to teach Jean how to communicate. Word spread, and soon parents were asking Louise to tutor their children with special needs.
She Opened the Doors to Children of All Abilities
During that first year of teaching in 1935, seven children attended Louise’s Home Study School in Minneapolis. But not everyone thought Louise was an innovator. University of Minnesota mental health officials called her a fraud.
That didn’t stop her. Louise ignored their condemnation and by 1939, attendance was up to 15 students. As Jean grew, she joined her mother as a teacher at the school. She really understood the struggles the children faced.
To meet the growing need for space, Louise moved the school to a vacant house in South Minneapolis. However, opposition forced her to move again in 1940. This time, she consulted with city authorities before buying a new home. That year, she had 25 children enrolled in the Home Study School.
Attendance Grew, even as the School Faced Opposition
Despite her best efforts, Louise again faced opposition. Neighbors called the police, claiming she had children tied to their beds, and that the school was hurting their property values. The next year, she was prevented from running the school out of her home. Louise began renting commercial space for the school to avoid conflict.
Attendance continued to grow, and soon, Louise was turning children away or putting them on a waiting list.
The Home Study School Finds a Home
It became clear there was a need for a permanent school that could accommodate more children. With the help of some parents, Louise raised money to purchase a former machine shop on 63rd and Penn in Richfield, which opened in the fall of 1949 as a 3-room school with an adjacent playground.
Carrying on the Legacy
At age 81, Louise passed away, but the strength and passion of her vision continue at the organization she created.
Today, Fraser School operates at 2400 West 64th Street in Richfield. The school honors the legacy of our founder, Louise, by accepting children of all abilities to learn and play together — building a culture of inclusion, one generation at a time.
- 1955 – The Home Study School incorporated and created its first Board of Directors. With over 50 students, the board started raising money for an expansion.
- 1960 – The Home Study School was expanded and remodeled.
- 1963 – After their granddaughter Vicky was born with Down syndrome, Minnesota senator and soon-to-be Vice President Hubert Humphrey and his wife, Muriel, enrolled her at the Home Study School. The Humphreys became passionate advocates for individuals with special needs and dear friends of Louise.
- 1965 – The school was renamed the Louise Whitbeck Fraser School in honor of its founder.
- 1967 – A larger facility was built at 2400 West 64th Street in Richfield.
- 1971 – The building was expanded again.
- 1976 – At age 81, Louise passed away. The strength and passion of her vision continued at the organization she created.
- 1977 – With the help of the Humphreys, the Muriel Humphrey Residences opened in Eden Prairie. The group homes allowed adults with disabilities to live semi-independently.
- 1984 – The organization changed names again to become Louise Whitbeck Fraser Community Services, Inc.
- 1988 – The residential program added its first apartment complex for adults with special needs who can live more independently.
- 1990 – The nonprofit became a state-sanctioned provider of rehabilitation services.
- 1994 – The organization opened Fraser Minneapolis. The clinic offered autism, mental health, neuropsychology services, as well as referrals for children, teens and families.
- 2001 – The nonprofit officially changed its name to Fraser.
- 2004 – A survey revealed children in Ramsey County needed more mental health support, so Fraser established a partnership with CAPRW Head Start in St. Paul. Fraser began to provide mental health services to preschoolers at school.
- 2006 – Fraser started providing mental health day treatment at some Minneapolis Public Schools and later expanded these services into other districts. That same year, the organization began to provide in-home waiver services, home-based respite care and case management.
- 2012 – To support individuals with autism and other special needs, Fraser began offering Career Planning and Employment services.
- 2014 – Fraser Eden Prairie opened offering autism, mental health and pediatric therapy services.
- 2015 – Fraser opened two clinics: Fraser Bloomington and Fraser Eagan. The clinics provided more accessible services for individuals and families with special needs.
- 2017 – Fraser Coon Rapids opened, replacing the Fraser Anoka clinic.
- 2018 – Fraser opened the Woodbury clinic, which is a state-of-the-art space designed for individuals with sensory processing issues.
- 2019 and Beyond – More children are being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Fraser created a sensory certification program, so organizations and businesses can offer a more inclusive experience for individuals with sensory processing issues.