National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Women's History Month Feature 2013
Elizabeth C. Quinlan House, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

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Elizabeth C. Quinlan House
Photograph courtesy of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office

Completed in 1925, the Elizabeth C. Quinlan residence at 1711 Emerson Avenue South is located in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The house was created for Elizabeth C. Quinlan, who was the co-founder of the Young-Quinlan Company, which, in 1894, was the first woman’s ready-to-wear shop west of the Mississippi River. Her highly successful department store, innovative practices and entrepreneurial work led her to become a leader of national recognition in the apparel industry and a pioneering business woman. Quinlan lived in the house from 1925 until her death in 1947. The house itself, designed by architect Frederick Lee Ackerman in the Renaissance Revival style, contains two living units, is three stories tall and built in an L-shaped plan (50 by 59.5 feet). Exhibiting many characteristics of the Renaissance Revival (or Mediterranean Revival) sub-genre of the Eclectic architectural styles, including stucco walls, terra cotta tile hipped roof, stone window trim, string courses, and quoins, classical embellishments, wrought iron interior and exterior details, and a courtyard patio with fountain, the Elizabeth C. Quinlan House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 25, 2012.

[photo]
Elizabeth C. Quinlan House
Photograph courtesy of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office

Elizabeth Quinlan was born in 1863, the daughter of working-class pioneers who settled on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. To help support her family, she began her 51-year career in the clothing industry in 1879 at the age of 16. Employed as a clerk by Goodfellow’s Dry Goods Store in downtown Minneapolis, her starting salary was only $10 a week. By 1894, she became one of the company’s top salespeople, earning a higher salary than any man working there.

With fellow employee Fred V. Young, Elizabeth Quinlan left Goodfellow’s to form the first women’s specialty store in Minneapolis. Before this time, women either made their dresses themselves or paid someone to make them. Despite the fact that she could not sew and had never made a dress in her life, Quinlan and her business partner opened their first store in the back of Vrooman’s Glove Company (located at 514 Nicollet Avenue). At a luncheon in her honor years later, the Minneapolis Times (December 17, 1940) reported her saying, “in 1894 the Young-Quinlan store opened. It was not very large and in a few hours we were practically sold out. For a while we thought we might have to close, because of too much success.”

[photo]
Elizabeth C. Quinlan House
Photograph courtesy of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office

The popularity of the store among upper-middle class women quickly propelled the expansion of the store to larger quarters in the Syndicate Block Building. After her partner, Young, died in 1911, Quinlan bought her interest in the company and became the sole owner and president of the Young-Quinlan Company (Elizabeth Quinlan’s sister, Annie Quinlan, ran the Young-Quinlan corset shop). For the next several years, the store and Elizabeth Quinlan flourished. AS the store’s principal buyer, she traveled all over the world to keep current with fashions, particularly those in Paris, Florence and New York City. Despite her growing national reputation, she remained fiercely proud of Minneapolis. She received an offer to work in New York City for a salary of $50,000 annually-nearly double what Young-Quinlan Co. grossed. According to the December 14, 1937 edition of the Washington Post in a story titled “Elizabeth Quinlan’s Career Stirs Admiration from East,” Elizabeth Quinlan said that her decision to remain in Minneapolis was “the best day’s work I ever did.”

In 1926, Quinlan moved from her store site at 513 Nicollet Avenue to a five-story emporium for the Young-Quinlan Company at 901 Nicollet Avenue.  The new building would advance both her business objectives and reflect her personal tastes---it was designed by Frederick L. Ackerman, the architect who had designed her home just two years before. The $1.25 million building was considered the largest women’s specialty shop in the country. The Renaissance Revival style building featured limestone trim, buff brick, brass framed display windows, and an underground parking garage with direct elevator access to each shopping floor.

Throughout her life, Quinlan was an important player in national and local civic work and a supporter of charities and cultural groups. She founded the Business Women’s Club in 1919, was an advisory board member for the Salvation Army, and served on the advisory board of the National Recovery Administration, a New Deal program that advocated raising the minimum wage, among other policies. As a side business, she became the director of a taxicab company because she wanted a safe taxi system for women and children.

[photo]
Elizabeth C. Quinlan House
Photograph courtesy of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office

Quinlan retired in 1945 from her noteworthy career, selling the store to Chicago’s Henry C. Lytton & Co. Through her career, her top professional tributes included a feature called “The Most Distinguished Business Women in the United States” in the March of Time documentary series sponsored by the Times Corporation (1927), and in 1935 she was described by Fortune magazine as one of the top 16 businesswomen in the United States.

Elizabeth Quinlan lived in her house with her sister Annie, who ran the corset department at her store. Elizabeth C. Quinlan died in 1947, leaving her assets to her nephew, William Lahiff, and eventually to the Elizabeth C. Quinlan Foundation,  which continues as a legacy as her success. . Lahiff lived in the house until 1979, when he donated it to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Institute returned it to private ownership in 1981.

Excerpted  from William E. Stark , William C. Quinlan House, NRHP Nomination, Minnesota SHPO, July 25, 2012.

NR documentation link http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/weekly_features/2012/Quinlan.pdf