Biographical / Historical
David Fraser was the 12th President of Swarthmore College (1982-1991). Trained as a physician with an emphasis on epidemiology, Fraser is also known as an advocate of liberal arts education, a scholar of public health, and an artist in traditional methods of textile construction. He joined Swarthmore College in 1982 after working at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and resigned from Swarthmore in 1991 to head the Social Welfare Department at the Aga Khan Secretariat.
David W. Fraser was born in Abington, Pennsylvania in 1944. A member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), he attended the Quaker-affiliated George School before moving on to receive a B.A. from Haverford College (1965) and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School (1969). Fraser began working at the Centers for Disease Control in 1975, and while working there, he gained national prominence in 1976 when he led the field team that discovered the cause of Legionnaires' Disease. He also led the CDC team that first ascertained the role of tampons in causing Toxic Shock Syndrome. Fraser remained active in the field of medicine throughout his career, publishing numerous papers in medical journals and chapters in medical texts, serving on an Institute of Medicine committee on AIDS public health strategy, and consulting on epidemiology, international health, and related topics. Fraser is also an expert on traditional weaving techniques, particularly weft twining. A practicing fiber artist himself, Fraser has lectured and published articles and books on traditional weaving, and is a scholar affiliated with the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Fraser served as President of Swarthmore College from 1982 to 1991. In that period, he oversaw a number of changes to the curriculum, including an increasing focus on teaching modes of inquiry rather than straight facts; a greater emphasis on writing, leading to the formation of the Writing Associates program; and some changes to the college's honors program. During his tenure, concentrations in women's (now gender and sexuality) studies, computer science, and German studies were added; majors in theater and Asian studies were approved; and a dance program was added to the music department. Fraser spearheaded intercollegiate efforts to increase minority student and faculty representation in higher education, to keep eligibility for federal financial aid separate from registrant status for military selective service, and to enhance cultural exchange between undergraduate Soviet and American students.
After David W. Fraser left Swarthmore College in 1991, he accepted a position heading the Social Welfare Department at the Aga Khan Secretariat. He continues to serve as a consultant in the arenas of higher education, epidemiology, and material culture.
Fraser and his wife, Barbara Gaines Fraser, had two children together.