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.
Louise 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.
People with disabilities were often institutionalized and little, if any, effort was made to educate them. Louise put her daughter on the waiting list for the school for the deaf.
While she waited, 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 disabilities.She Opened the Doors to Children of All Abilities
During her first year 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. By 1939, attendance was up to 15 students. As Jean grew, she joined her mother as a teacher at the school.
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. 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. 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 grew, 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 larger, permanent school. With some parents, Louise raised money to purchase a former machine shop on 63rd and Penn in Richfield, which opened in 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.