Finding History’s Forgotten Women with the National Register of Historic Places, Part II

To conclude Women’s History Month, we have one more forgotten woman to re-acquaint ourselves with: Anna Mary Robertson Moses. Readers may not recognize this accomplished artist by her formal name, but if I share her nickname, “Grandma Moses”, many might recall this sprightly American folk painter whose artwork was popularized during the mid-twentieth century.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses called herself "Grandma Moses" and began to paint later in life just for something to do.  She soon gained national fame for her paintings.  (Wikipedia)

Anna Mary Robertson Moses called herself “Grandma Moses” and began to paint later in life just for something to do. She soon gained national fame for her paintings. (Wikipedia)

Grandma Moses, a self-proclaimed moniker when she had grandchildren, briefly dabbled in the arts before her husband Thomas’s death. It was only when her hand became too arthritic that her sister Celestia suggested that Anna start to paint instead. Anna followed her advice. One statement of hers that is often quoted is that if she hadn’t started painting, she would’ve raised chickens; meaning that painting was something just to keep herself occupied. She gave away her paintings or occasionally sold them to local stores as décor for $5.

"Joyride," by Grandma Moses, 1953.  (www.theartnewspaper.com)

“Joyride,” by Grandma Moses, 1953. (www.theartnewspaper.com)

By the end of Anna’s career, she had created over 1,000 paintings, become a household name, was associated with advertisements by having her works depicted on products like tiles, dishes, and fabrics, received the Women’s National Press Club Trophy from President Harry Truman, and became an American phenomenon. Her paintings were mostly of memories from her childhood and married life, which were the years most important to her. Typically the paintings showed an expansive landscape with multiples figures in the front, often conducting a task she had done or seen on the farm. Art critics often spoke of her work with disdain, but the American people couldn’t seem to get enough. In a time when people feared atomic bombs and memories of the Great Depression lingered, Grandma Moses depicted a life with which many Americans wanted to identify. Her work was also in great contrast to the then-current art movement known as Cubism (popularized by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso), but still had an air of modernity with her flat figures, which as her work progressed became more abstract.

"The Old Hoosick Bridge," by Grandma Moses (www.mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com)

“The Old Hoosick Bridge,” by Grandma Moses, 1947.   (www.mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com)

Anna Mary Robertson Moses died in 1961. In August 2012, Mt. Airy, her home in Augusta County, Virginia, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This Shenandoah home was first constructed around 1840 while under the ownership of Major James Crawford, and was later associated with Anna Moses and her husband Thomas. Mt. Airy was the first house Anna and Thomas owned. They purchased it for $6,000 and lived there from January, 1901 to September, 1902.  Anna started creating pictures in the 1930’s from her memories as a farm wife both in Virginia and the New York Hoosick Valley, and it is thought that many of those paintings depicted life at Mt. Airy.

Mt. Airy, in Augusta County, Virginia, was Grandma Moses's home for a short period in the early 1900s.  The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.  (National Park Service)

Mt. Airy, in Augusta County, Virginia, was Grandma Moses’s home for a short period in the early 1900s. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. (National Park Service)

-Allison Powell, Park Ranger

Finding History’s Forgotten Women with the National Register of Historic Places, Part I

As you may be aware, March has been designated as Women’s History Month. I’m proud to say that I was alive when this national “holiday” was born – can’t say that for most! Congress authorized President Ronald Reagan to proclaim Women’s History WEEK to begin on March 7, 1981. Authorizations continued over the next five years, until March 1987 when Women’s History MONTH was designated. Every president since has been authorized by Congress to continue this annual tradition, which brings us to today.

Certainly women should be celebrated all year long. However, there are a number of women throughout our history that deserve special mention because of their contributions to society, and these are the stories told throughout the month of March. In honor of these stories and the women behind them, I’d like to introduce you to three women who you may be familiar with, but perhaps forgotton about, over time.

How did I choose three women out of the myriad of women who are worthy of note?  Easy – I referred to a wonderful program administered by the National Park Service: the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP is the “official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation…it is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources” (www.nps.gov/nr/). This website lists sites which are devoted to women’s history, as well as those for African Americans, aviation, the Shakers, Lewis and Clark, and dozens of others. These sites are offered as travel itineraries for the purposes of visiting thematically-grouped history sites.

So off we go on an armchair tour of the first of a few forgotten Women in History!!

Elizabeth C. Quinlan House, NRHP Listing 2013
In an age of measure-and-sew clothing that required multiple trips to tailors and fittings, or having the skill to sew your own clothing, Elizabeth Quinlan introduced to American women in Minneapolis, and eventually around the country, a new way of shopping for clothing. Could this passion have been fueled by the fact that Quinlan could not sew and never made a dress in her life?

Elizabeth C. Quinlan was known as the "Queen of Minneapolis" and was one of the most successful businesswomen of her era.  (ForgottenMinnesota.com)

Elizabeth C. Quinlan was known as the “Queen of Minneapolis” and was one of the most successful businesswomen of her era. (ForgottenMinnesota.com)

The Young-Quinlan Company was the first women’s ready-to-wear shop west of the Mississippi River. Opened in 1894, Ms. Quinlan filled her shop with the latest pre-made fashions from Paris, New York City, and Florence, among other iconic fashion cities. Her start in the industry was modest; in 1879 she earned $10 a week as a clerk in a dry goods store in downtown Minneapolis, and 15 years later she was one of the company’s top sales people, making more money than any of her male counterparts. Her ability to spot a style hit, her entrepreneurial work and innovative practices elevated her reputation nationally, and these skills propelled her store into the national spotlight. In 1937 she was offered a job in New York City making double her salary at the Young-Quinlan Company, which she proudly declined, saying her decision to stay in Minneapolis was “the best day’s work I ever did.”

Quinlan expanded to a new location in 1926, constructing a five-story, $1.25 million building with 250 parking stalls underground and an elevator which brought customers directly to each floor. Always thinking ahead, the core of the store was built to accommodate seven additional floors, and Quinlan also requested of the architect that the design be easily converted into office space if the store failed.

The Young-Quinlan Company store in Minneapolis around 1908.  The store moved to a new , larger location in 1926.  (ForgottenMinnesota.com)

The Young-Quinlan Company store in Minneapolis around 1908. The store moved to a new , larger location in 1926. (ForgottenMinnesota.com)

At the time, the store was considered the largest women’s specialty shop in the country. In addition to the latest women’s fashions, the store also displayed special displays and touring exhibits. In 1932 Quinlan brought a collection of rare imperial treasures from Russia to the auditorium on the 5th floor, and exhibited the $150,000 Hattie Carnegie gown encrusted with 40,000 pearls. Popular actresses of the time, including Ethel Barrymore and Lynn Fontanne, were frequent visitors to the store.

During her career, Elizabeth 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 National Recovery Administration board, which was part of a New Deal program that advocated raising 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. In 1935 she was listed as one of the top 16 businesswomen in the United States by Fortune magazine.

The “Queen of Minneapolis” died in 1947, and The Young-Quinlan Company closed in 1985. The home in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis, where Elizabeth Quinlan lived from 1925-1947, was added to the NRHP in 2013. After brief ownership by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the home was returned to private ownership in 1981.

This is the home in which Elizabeth C. Quinlan lived  for the last 22 years of her life, from 1925-1947.  The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.  (Wikipedia Commons)

This is the home in which Elizabeth C. Quinlan lived for the last 22 years of her life, from 1925-1947. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. (Wikipedia Commons)

Elizabeth C. Quinlan’s legacy lives on in many ways:  through The Elizabeth C. Quinlan Foundation which supports educational institutions and their activities, and social service organizations and their programs, and the still-standing Young-Quinlan Company store, located at 513 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Quinlan’s “perfect gem” was saved from demolition in 1985. After several million dollars of restoration work, the building now houses offices and retail outlets. I think Elizabeth Quinlan would approve of that!

Stay tuned for more Women’s History Month sites in the coming weeks!

For more information on The National Register of Historic Places, please visit www.nps.gov/nr

Elizabeth C. Quinlan: http://forgottenminnesota.com/2014/03/the-queen-of-minneapolis/

Elizabeth C. Quinlan Home: http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/wom/2013/Elizabeth_quinlan_House.htm

-Allison Powell, Park Ranger