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Biographical Sketch of Frances Swadesh Quintana

Throughout her career, Dr. Quintana became a well known and respected professional in the history, cultures, and politics of the Southwest. Although she did not pursue the traditional academic course of anthropology, her work places her among the pioneers of Southwestern studies. Frances Swadesh  Quintana passed away peacefully on January 16, 2009.

Frances Webster Léon was born on August 6, 1917 in Irvington, New York. In 1940 at the age of 23, she married Morris H. Swadesh. Their marriage lasted until 1958, but she continued to use the surname Swadesh until 1978 when she married Miguel F. Quintana. Thereafter she published under the name Frances Léon Quintana.

Quintana completed her high school education at the International School of Geneva in 1933, after which she entered Vassar College to train as a teacher of French. She quickly discovered anthropology and became interested in Mayan artistic achievements, which catapulted her into the field of anthropology. In 1936, Quintana received the opportunity to conduct archeological field research at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico where her interactions exposed her to contemporary Navajo culture and the Quechua indigenous culture of Peru. As a result of her experiences at Chaco Canyon, Quintana realized that her passion lay in ethnography and planned for her graduate work in the Andean area of Quechua-Aymara populations. To enrich her anthropological education, Quintana volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History where she worked on a large Peruvian textile collection. She considered becoming a textile specialist but her museum mentor, Wendell Bennett, urged her to go to Yale and study under Edward Sapir. Following his advice Quintana went to Yale University in 1938 on a one year graduate fellowship where she studied with Edward Sapir. Most impressed by his advocacy for direct fieldwork and his belief in treating cultures as co-equals, Quintana embraced Sapir's teachings and utilized them to guide her future work and methodological approaches.

After Sapir died, Quintana went to the Instituto Politécnico in Mexico City where she continued her linguistics studies with Sapir's former student Dr. Morris Swadesh. Under his auspices Quintana began working as a teacher of reading and writing in Tarascan and Otomí indigenous communities of Mexico until 1940, at which time the newly elected Mexican president put an end to the Indian literacy projects. In that same year Quintana and Swadesh also married. In 1941, after the Pearl Harbor attack, they returned to the United States, where Morris Swadesh enlisted in the Army and Frances Quintana settled down to raise a family.

After the war, Quintana joined and assisted Swadesh in his fieldwork trips, typing and editing his manuscripts. However, it was not until the early 1960s that she resumed her graduate studies at the University of Colorado. There, she joined the Tri-Ethnic Project as a research assistant from 1960-1963, and conducted field and archival research on Spanish-Ute-Anglo relations in southern Colorado, analyzing intercultural contact and influence between Southern Utes and southwestern Spanish populations from the 17th century to the early 20th century. Her research for the Tri-Ethnic Project resulted in her 1962 M.A. thesis, "The Southern Utes and Their Neighbors," and directly contributed to her doctoral dissertation, "Hispanic Americans of the Ute Frontier," which she completed in 1966.

From 1968-1973 Dr. Quintana served as ethnologist-evaluator for the Home Education Livelihood Program (H.E.L.P.), sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico. The program, a result of protests from northern New Mexico farm workers, created national awareness about rural Hispanic poverty, discrimination, and land grant grievances. Quintana's research concerned attitudinal change among farm workers, something the program hoped to incite through education, organization and small demonstration projects. Dissatisfied with the treatment of the program by the Nixon administration, Quintana left H.E.L.P. However she continued her employment with the Laboratory of Anthropology at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, working as Curator of Ethnology until 1978, developing programs and exhibits about New Mexico's varied cultural groups. During this time she also conducted ethnohistorical research contributing to archeological projects at historic sites due to be destroyed by highway development. She participated in projects at San Antonio, in the Villanueva Bridge project, the Navajo sites at Newcomb, and the Las Vegas New Mexico I-25 bypass project. As the ethnohistorian on these assignments, Quintana reconstructed the local history from colonial times while engaging public interest in the sites and treating the local people as "living historic communities."

During her tenure at the Laboratory of Anthropology, Dr. Quintana also wrote Los Primeros Pobladores: Hispanic Americans of the Ute Frontier, first published in 1974. While her employment with the Laboratory of Anthropology was consistently productive, it was not without its problems. Dr. Quintana filed a grievance in 1976 and again in1978, which was rooted in competing visions of Native Americans as participants in the Museum of New Mexico rather than as objects of study. Her grievance brought to light gender discrimination in the administration of the Museum. The grievance was eventually settled in her favor in 1978 as the Laboratory's grievance committee determined she was improperly denied back pay. Afterwards, Dr. Quintana resigned her position with the Laboratory of Anthropology. She continued ethnohistorical research for archeological projects as well as projects relating to Chicano heritage, the Alianza movement, land grants, water rights, Indian civil rights, and Indian-Hispanic relations.

Well aware of the history surrounding land grants in New Mexico, Dr. Quintana became sympathetic towards the efforts of the Alianza Federal de Pueblos Libres. She wrote historical reviews which substantiated some of the historical land claims of the Alianza and delivered testimony on behalf of Reies Lopez Tijerina during his trial in the mid-1960s. She also attended the Alianza's fourth annual conference in 1966 addressing land rights issues and discrimination against Hispanos. Additionally, Dr. Quintana actively advocated for Indian Civil Rights through legal testimonies and by encouraging the ACLU and its New Mexico affiliate to fully support the tribes in their struggle against the 1968 amendment to the Civil Rights Act, which threatened to diminish the powers of tribal sovereignty.

While much of Dr. Quintana's energy was dedicated to research and publication, she was also a teacher. She served briefly as a visiting professor at Antioch College and Colorado College and also gave class presentations at UNM College of Nursing, the College of Santa Fe, the Institute of American Indian Arts, Western New Mexico University, UNM School of Architecture and Planning, and the Ghost Ranch Conference Center. She addressed a range of topics from ethnohistory, to culture contact and change in the Southwest, anthropology and illness, property and kinship, land grants, and Hispanic and African American education. Throughout her career, Dr. Quintana became a well known and respected professional in the history, cultures, and politics of the Southwest. Although she did not pursue the traditional academic course of anthropology, her work places her among the pioneers of Southwestern studies. Frances Quintana Swadesh passed away peacefully on January 16, 2009.