MacArthur Fellows Program

Joan Abrahamson

Community Development Leader | Class of 1985

Community Development Leader
Los Angeles, California
34 at time of award
Published July 1, 1985

About Joan's Work

Joan Abrahamson is a lawyer, an artist, and a catalyst for community action.

Abrahamson is founder and president of the Jefferson Institute, a public policy institute that seeks to implement solutions to social concerns in the areas of the future of cities, international security, international economics, health, and creativity. She has also chaired the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.


Abrahamson was responsible for converting an abandoned army base in San Francisco to the Fort Mason Center, a community arts and learning center. She served as a White House Fellow and as special assistant and associate counsel for Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and George H. W. Bush, and then as the latter’s assistant chief of staff. Prior to this, she worked at the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission and at UNESCO’s Division of Human Rights and Peace. Since 1995, she has served as president of the Jonas Salk Foundation.

Abrahamson received a B.A. (1972) from Yale University, M.A. (1973) from Stanford University, Ph.D. (1977) from Harvard University, and J.D. (1980) from the University of California, Berkeley. 

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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