Fonds 1289 - Fraser Family fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1289


Fraser Family fonds


  • 1858-1992 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

9.0 m of textual and graphic records (58 boxes)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

William Henry Fraser was born in Bond Head, Ontario, in 1853 and received his BA from the University of Toronto in 1880. Following several years on the staff at Upper Canada College, he was appointed lecturer in Italian and Spanish at the University of Toronto in 1887. In 1892 he was appointed associate professor, in 1901 professor. He died in York Mills on 28 December, 1916.

Professor Fraser was a prolific writer of textbooks, alone and in conjunction with John Squair (French) and William Henry Van der Smissen (German). They were used in schools in Ontario for more than two generations. A list of the titles is appended.

In 1883 he married Helene Zahn. They had two sons, William K. and Donald, and one daughter, Frieda Helen. Helen survived him for almost twenty years, dying suddenly on the New York to Toronto train in 1933.

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Biographical history

Name of creator


Biographical history

Donald was born 27 September, 1888 and graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA (1912) and an MB (1915). Following active service in World War I, he joined the University's Antitoxin Laboratory (later the Connaught Laboratories), where he was eventually appointed Assistant Director. In 1920 he was appointed to the staff of the Department of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and helped develop the School of Hygiene. In 1932 he became a full professor and de facto head of the Department, succeeding Dr. Fitzgerald in 1940.

A bacteriologist, he was "an enthusiastic proponent of the use of vaccines and antitoxins." In the early 1920s he "assisted in the research to improve the production of insulin", "was a member of the team that perfected diphtheria toxoid," and was also keenly interested in tetanus, scarlet fever, and whooping cough. Dr. Fraser introduced the science of microbiology into the curriculum, and was a widely respected teacher, fluent in French and German. He died in 1954.

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Biographical history

Frieda Helen Fraser was born in Toronto on 30 August,1899. She was educated at home, 67 Madison Avenue, until the age of fifteen and then spent three years at Havergal College. She entered University College in the fall of 1917, receiving her BA in 1922, having specialized in physics and biology. She went on to medical school, receiving her MB three years later. In the summer of 1925, she moved to New York where she took her internship at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She then moved to Philadelphia to complete her post-doctoral training in chest diseases under Dr. Muriel McPhedran at the Henry Phipps Institute, University of Pennsylvania.

Frieda returned to Toronto in 1928 to accept the positions of research associate in the Connaught Laboratories and demonstrator in the Department of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine in the School of Hygiene. Her slow rise through the ranks was typical for a woman of her time, though she advanced further than most. In 1929, her appointment as a demonstrator in hygiene was made part-time while she concentrated more on her research at the Connaught. In 1933, she was promoted to lecturer (part-time) in the Department of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine and full-time the following year. In 1936, she became an assistant professor and an associate professorship followed after the outbreak of the Second World War. Her appointment as a full professor came in 1949 and in 1955, she was appointed Professor of Microbiology. Dr. Fraser retired in 1965.

Trained as a bacteriologist, she worked closely with her brother Donald for much of her career. After his death in 1954, she was involved in a special research project to develop an antigen for tuberculosis. She taught preventive medicine in the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing programmes for more than thirty years.

Dr. Fraser was an amateur artist who included drawings and sketches in her correspondence, research notes, and on stray pieces of paper. Her dedication to gardening is also evidenced through the records. She shared the linguistic skills of her family, being fluent in German and French. In the late 1930s Frieda moved in with her lifelong partner Edith Williams (“Bud”). The house they shared, on the Niagara escarpment near Burlington, had been purchased by Frieda's mother some years earlier and was inherited by Frieda after the death of her grandmother. Frieda died in a nursing home in Burlington, Ontario on 29 July,1994, shortly after she was forced to leave her beloved home.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Edith Bickerton Williams, known to all as "Bud", was born in Toronto on 24 June,1899. She was educated for ten years at "Glen Mawr", a private school for girls run by a Miss Veal. She entered University College as an Arts student in the fall of 1916, but did not find the program much to her liking and failed second year. In approximately 1925, she went to Britain to work in a bank. Her mother tried to persuade her to stay, but she returned to Canada in 1927. At some point in the 1920s, Williams was diagnosed with a mild case of tuberculosis. Subsequently, she raised poultry in Aurora for ten years before deciding to attend the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. Williams graduated in 1941, the second woman in Ontario to do so, and then set up her own practice in Toronto (675 St. Clair Avenue West).

In the late 1930s, Bud moved in with her lifelong partner Frieda Fraser. The house they shared, on the Niagara escarpment near Burlington, had been purchased by Frieda's mother some years earlier and inherited by Frieda after the death of her grandmother.

At the end of December,1976, Bud suffered a severe stroke and made only a partial recovery, never leaving hospital for long. She died in 1979.

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Scope and content

Records of the Fraser family, principally William Henry Fraser, Professor of Italian and Spanish, and his wife, Helene and two of their children, Donald Thomas and Frieda Helen, both professors in the School of Hygiene. Fonds also contains the records of Frieda Fraser's lifetime companion, Edith (Bud) Bickerton Williams, a veterinarian, including extensive correspondence between Frieda and Bud that documents their personal lives as a same-sex couple, as well as their professional lives as women in medicine in the early 20th century. The correspondence has been noted for its significance both in terms of both Canadian lesbian history and the history of medicine. [1]
Also included are course and laboratory notes, lecture notes, research files and notebooks, addresses, drafts of articles, prize books, photographs and slides, sketches and watercolours, the Zahn Family Chronicle and other family history items.

[1] Perdue, Katherine, “Passion and Profession, Doctors in Skirts: The Letters of Doctors Frieda Fraser and Edith Bickerton Williams,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 2005 22:2, 271-280,

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Finding aids

  • Finding aid available for accession B1995-0044.
  • No finding aid for B1997-0027.

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The Arquives - Canada's LGBTQ2+ Archives holds vertical files relating to Frieda Helen Fraser and Edith Williams

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Dates of creation revision deletion

Added to AtoM by E. Sommers, Feb. 2017
Edits made to improve language, discoverability and contemporary significance of the relationship between Frieda Fraser and Bud Williams. Updated by Louise Curtis July 2022




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