Frances R. Chisnell, 65, who retired last fall as head nurse of the obstetrical-gynecological ward of Arlington Hospital, died of cancer Tuesday at her home in Arlington.

Mrs. Chisnell, who was born in Roanoke, trained at the Jefferson Hospital School of Nursing there and became a registered nurse in 1947. She then became assistant supervisor of nursing at the Johnson-Willis School of Nursing in Richmond. In 1948, she married Thomas C. Chisnell, a candidate for a doctorate in geology.

In 1951, they moved to Arlington and Dr. Chisnell, who had received his degree, went to work at the Pentagon. Mrs. Chisnell reared a family and was active in Arlingtonians for a Better County in the 1960s.

In 1969, she resumed her nursing career at Arlington Hospital and remained there until her retirement.

In addition to her husband, of Arlington, survivors include two sons, Thomas C. II, of Arlington, and John R., of Lansing, Mich.; four daughters, Martha C. Augustin of Sterling, and Mary E., Jane Grace and Ruth Ellen Chisnell, all of Arlington; one brother, Dennis Richardson of Wirtz, Va.; three sisters, Edith V. Moyers of Roanoke, Ruth E. Saunders of Lynchburg, Va., and Edna A. Ewald of Buena Vista, Va., and one granddaughter.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Hospice of Northern Virginia, 4715 N. 15th St., Arlington, 22205.