Ruth Visher Smalley Frechtman, 83, a lawyer who retired in 1984 from the National Labor Relations Board, died of lung cancer July 6 at the Hospice of Washington. She had lived in the District off and on since the 1950s.

Mrs. Frechtman was born in Moorehead, Minn. She was a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Indiana, where she also received a master's degree in behavioral psychology and a doctorate in law.

While at the university, Mrs. Frechtman was assistant to behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner.

Early in her career, she taught poetry at the Juilliard School in New York.

In the 1950s, she was a chef at the Heritage restaurant in Germantown, N.Y., and worked for civil rights lawyer Morris L. Ernst.

Among the cases she worked on with Ernst was a successful challenge before the Supreme Court of restrictive covenant clauses, using the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.

She joined the NLRB staff in the late 1950s. Mrs. Frechtman was a member of the Federal Bar Association and the Order of the Coif.

Her marriage to Donald Smalley ended in divorce.

Survivors include her husband of 21 years, Julian Frechtman of Washington; a brother; a sister; and a stepsister.