Joan Abrahamson

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Joan Abrahamson
EducationYale University (B.A.)
Stanford University (M.A.)
Harvard University (Ph.D.)
University of California, Berkeley (J.D.)
OccupationPresident of the Jefferson Institute
Known forPrevious positions as:
Notable work

Joan Abrahamson (born Los Angeles, California, United States) is an attorney, artist, former government appointee, and activist who is founder and president of the Jefferson Institute. She also worked in international security and economics, health, and the study of the creative process. Jonas Salk, a family friend,[1] was a mentor to Abrahamson.[2]


Prior to her founding the Jefferson Institute, Abrahamson was Assistant Chief of Staff to Vice President George H. W. Bush. As a White House Fellow, she served as Special Assistant and Associate Counsel to Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and George Bush. Prior to this, she worked for the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and for UNESCO’s Division of Human Rights and Peace in Paris. She planned and implemented the Vienna International Congress on the Teaching of Human Rights and the International Symposium on the Political Participation of Women. She served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1990 to 1994.[3]

From 1973 to 1976, Abrahamson redesigned the Fort Mason Pier Area in San Francisco, converting an army base for use as a community-based Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. Fort Mason has since been designated a model urban park by the National Park Service. She is currently involved with the transformation of the Presidio of San Francisco from an Army base to a National Park.[4]

In 1985, she founded the Jefferson Institute, a non-partisan 501c3 think tank and public policy institute.[4] The institute seeks to identify innovative private-sector approaches to remedy government policy issues, which it then works to implement, with emphasis on the future of cities.

Boards of Directors[edit]

She became the founding chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989,[5] then president of the Jonas Salk Foundation in 1995.[6] Abrahamson was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 1990 for a four-year term.[7] She also serves on the boards of: the National Geographic Society, the American Architectural Foundation, the California Institute for the Arts, and UNICEF, among others.[8][9][10]

She has been a consultant to many organizations, including the Harvard University Center for Urban Affairs, the Rockefeller Commission on the Arts and Education in America, the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Nations University, the Executive Office of the President, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


Abrahamson earned a B.A. from Yale in 1972, M.A. from Stanford in 1977, a doctorate in Learning Environments from Harvard and a J.D. from the Berkeley in 1980.[6] She also served as a law clerk for the Supreme Court of California. In June 1985, Abrahamson was named a MacArthur Prize Fellow.[11]



  1. ^ "Death of Child Sparks 'Grieving Album'". Voice of America. 29 October 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  2. ^ Kollman, Robin Smith (21 January 2003). "Lawyer gets through her grief with songwriting". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  3. ^ Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 539.
  4. ^ a b Riley, John (3 November 1985). "In Perfect Balance : Joan Abrahamson's Remarkable Life, So Far". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  5. ^ Lawrence, Jill (9 March 1989). "Barbara Bush Begins Family Literacy Foundation". Associated Press. Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Joan Abrahamson". Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  7. ^ Administration of George Bush, 1990, Book 1. Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration. 1991. p. 901.
  8. ^ "CalArts Board of Trustees | REDCAT". Archived from the original on April 20, 2010. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
  9. ^ "Joan Abrahamson: Executive Profile & Biography - Businessweek". Retrieved 24 June 2016.[dead link]
  10. ^ "National Geographic Society". Archived from the original on November 20, 2004. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  11. ^ "The MacArthur Truffle Hunt", The New York Times, Anne Matthews, June 7, 1992