Longtime leader Karen Fraser profiled in new Legacy Washington exhibit

Longtime leader Karen Fraser profiled in new Legacy Washington exhibit

A profile of Karen Fraser of Olympia, who served in the Washington State Legislature for 28 years, is the latest chapter in Legacy Washington’s overview of 1968 “The Year that Rocked Washington.” The profile — part of an exhibit that will open Sept. 13 at the State Capitol — is now online.

Fraser as a young economist with the Washington State Highways Department. Washington State Archives
Fraser as a young economist with the Washington State Highways Department. Washington State Archives

Change was in the air. Everywhere. It was the year when Vietnam, civil rights, women’s liberation, and conservation coalesced — and a year when tragedy led the 6 o’clock news with numbing regularity. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were murdered within two months. That summer, Chicago police clubbed protesters at the Democratic National Convention as a shocked nation watched on TV.

In 1968, Fraser was in graduate school at the University of Washington, pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. As the campus roiled with activism, she taped a Eugene McCarthy for President poster in her apartment window. At 24, it was her first overt political statement. So much had changed since 1962, her freshman year. Young women were rejecting the fraternity sweetheart stereotype. They now wanted to “lead lives worthy of emulation,” as the student-run magazine put it.

Fraser demonstrated exceptional talent as a Ford Foundation intern with the Legislature before joining the State Highways Department as an economist. Active in the National Organization for Women, she became the first female mayor of Lacey in 1976. After eight years as a Thurston County commissioner, Fraser was elected to the Legislature. She became a champion of gender equality, the environment, and growth management, retiring in 2016 — a half-century after she arrived at the Capitol.

Fraser’s selection as Lacey’s first female mayor rated a banner headline in The Morning Olympian on Jan. 23, 1976. Washington State Library
Fraser’s selection as Lacey’s first female mayor rated a banner headline in The Morning Olympian on Jan. 23, 1976. Washington State Library

Her legislative achievements include sponsoring the bill that created the statewide 911 emergency telephone system and protecting the Nisqually River basin. Fraser will be long remembered for her intelligence, civility and “efficiency over flash,”as The Olympian observed in 2003.

Thank you to the sponsors of Karen Fraser’s panel: National Organization for Women (NOW) and League of Women Voters and thank you to the sponsors of Legacy Washington’s 1968 Exhibit: Capitol City PressThe McGregor Company, University of Washington and Association of Washington Businesses.

  

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