Elizabeth C. Quinlan

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Revision as of 15:18, 28 September 2007

Winning Nomination

Elizabeth Quinlan was a founder of the Young-Quinlan Co. in Minneapolis in 1894. She was born in 1863 and died in 1947. After her partner, Fred Young, died in 1911, she ran the company until it was sold in 1945. The building she erected in 1926 was described as a gem and exists beautifully restored today at 9th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. It was the first women's ready-to-wear shop west of the Mississippi.
~Richard Klein, Minnetonka, MN


Contents

History

The Twin Cities' first fashionista

It was a brown wool dress lined with taffeta. With its long, full skirt, tight bodice, high collar and leg-o'-mutton sleeves, it was the kind of dress a fashionable woman might have worn for afternoon tea in the late 1890s. It sold for fifty dollars, and when shop owner Elizabeth Quinlan introduced it to her Minneapolis clients, she made retail history.

Quinlan was the first merchant to sell women's ready-to-wear clothing west of the Mississippi. Before this, women either made their dresses and suits themselves or paid someone to make them. Quinlan's innovation was simply the most notable of the many things she accomplished during her long tenure as one of Minneapolis's most successful businesswomen. She grew up in a working-class home in Minneapolis. At eighteen, she began selling clothes at Goodfellow and Eastman on Nicollet Avenue. Fifteen years later, and by then one of the store's top salespeople, Quinlan left Goodfellow's for a three-month stint at Fred D. Young and Company, the nation's second ready-to-wear shop, newly founded by a former Goodfellow's executive. She stayed at Young's (which in 1903 became Young-Quinlan's) for the next fifty-one years.

For Elizabeth Quinlan, 1911 was a watershed year. A devastating fire necessitated an entire remodeling of her store. Later that year, her partner, Fred Young, died at age forty-nine after a long illness. Quinlan bought his interest in the business from his relatives, thus becoming its sole owner and one of very few women business owners in Minneapolis.

In 1926, when she was sixty-three-years old, Quinlan built the elegant Young-Quinlan Building at 901 Nicollet Avenue, a five-story emporium that combined elegance, luxury, and convenience. The "perfect gem," as Quinlan described it, was widely admired and copied, becoming the template for Neiman-Marcus's expansion in Dallas in the late 1920s.

A "master of dramatic gesture and anecdote, clever with the bon mot," Elizabeth Quinlan was well known throughout Minneapolis's civic circles. She supported charities and cultural groups, took a year off from work during World War I to head the Liberty Bond drive, and founded the Business Women's Club in 1919. In 1933, she was the only woman who served on the board of the National Recovery Act, advising on specialty stores and advocating a raise in minimum wage (during her tenure, it went up to fifteen dollars a week). The Saturday Evening Post devoted a four-page spread to her in 1927, and, in the mid-1930s, Fortune Magazine named her one of the country's top businesswomen. By all accounts, a winning combination of elegant socialite and shrewd manager, Quinlan was once asked if her store was the realization of her lifelong dreams. "No," she answered. "Everyone wants me to say so, but it isn't. Not really. It was just the thing for me to do."


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