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Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan
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Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan

In Webster’s New World Dictionary, one definition of presence is “impressive bearing, personality, etc., characterized by poise, confidence, etc.” For anyone who knew the long-time Notre Dame College English teacher, Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan exemplified presence. Under her reserved exterior, she was insatiably curious, relentlessly logical, devoted to her causes, and indomitable. The dedication of the Quinlivan Circle in her memory highlights her continuing influence on her students and the college she served for 45 years.

Frances Quinlivan in July 1992Frances was born July 20, 1902. At 17 months old, she contracted polio. She recovered but was paralyzed from the waist down. At first, her parents expected that the family would care for her all her life. But when her brother died in childhood, they focused on preparing Frances to take care of herself. They shaped her attitude and provided the education they knew she would need.
 
After attending elementary and high school classes at Notre Dame Academy, Frances enrolled at Western Reserve University.

During her junior year she acquired an electric car. From then until her 80s, Miss Q drove cars specially equipped with hand controls.

In 1925 Frances received her bachelor’s degree from WRU and applied to teach at Notre Dame College, only three years after it opened. She was offered a part-time post, which allowed her time to earn a master’s degree from WRU in 1928.

Miss Q quickly established a reputation as a demanding teacher. Her deceptively simple questions unsettled and challenged students. They could not simply take copious notes and regurgitate facts. Quinnie expected them to develop into independent thinkers who could spot shallow reasoning and defend their own beliefs. In time, many of Miss Q’s former students joined her on the Notre Dame College staff.

As Miss Quinlivan took on more classes during the school years, she also took advantage of summer vacations to travel with her childhood friend, Dorothy Burke. Dorothy was a teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools and later assistant principal at John Adams High School. Their most memorable trip was a 13-week European odyssey in 1930. The women sailed to Dublin, taking along Quinnie’s specially equipped Buick. They drove around Ireland, Scotland, and England; crossed the Channel; and continued across Europe. In August, they sailed from Naples, hurried from New York, and arrived home just in time for the opening day of classes!

In 1946 Quinnie became advisor of the Pall Mall Honorary English Society. Membership was limited to students who received an A in one of Miss Q’s courses. Monthly meetings usually featured speakers she lined up. The December meeting, however, was always a Christmas party at the home in Cleveland Heights that she and Dorothy shared.

Quinnie reminisces with a friend during her 90th birthday celebration.Miss Quinlivan completed her Ph.D. in English literature at WRU in 1947; her dissertation examined the Anglo-Irish novel from 1800 to 1880. In 1948 Dr. Quinlivan was named head of Notre Dame’s English Department. Despite the added administrative load, she continued to make time for individual writing conferences with students in her classes and on the staff of the College’s literary anthology, Pivot.

Dr. Quinlivan retired from Notre Dame in 1970 but remained active. For ten years she and Dorothy continued their travels, attended plays and concerts, and cooked for dinner guests. Miss Q read voraciously and corresponded with Notre Dame alumnae worldwide.

After Dorothy died in 1983, Frances lived alone in her house until 1994. Then she reluctantly moved to Judson Park Retirement Community. She mentioned to a visitor that her oldest known relative had died at 96. Never one to be outdone, Quinnie refused to die until eight days after her 96th birthday.

Patricia Opaskar '65 is a freelance writer and editor residing in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.