Elsie B. Francis, 82, a former clerk-stenographer who switched careers in midlife and became a professor of speech at Temple University, died Tuesday, Dec. 11, of complications from diabetes at Bala Nursing & Retirement Center in Philadelphia.

Ms. Francis worked as a clerk-stenographer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Philadelphia for 10 years in the 1950s and early 1960s.

It was Ms. Francis' dream to become a teacher, said her niece Leslie Johnson. "So after talking to a friend, she made up her mind that she would have to stop working to do it."

In her 30s, Ms. Francis enrolled at Temple University, where she received a scholarship. After four years, she earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1967. A year later, Ms. Francis received a master's degree in rhetoric and communications at Temple.

A short time later she was hired by the university, becoming the first African American woman to join the faculty in the department of speech. She worked at Temple for nearly 30 years, retiring in 1996.

Ms. Francis was born Dec. 27, 1929, in Philadelphia, one of 10 children of Elsie and Richard Francis.

She was raised in Mount Airy and graduated from William Penn High School. She attended business school and completed a program in accounting.

Ms. Francis then joined the Department of Agriculture, working as a clerk-stenographer for 10 years.

While working at Temple, she enrolled in a doctoral program in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed all the work except the dissertation, Johnson said.

"Even after she retired, she continued to do consulting work with a lot of companies throughout the tristate area," Johnson said.

Although she never married or had children of her own, Ms. Francis raised a niece, Penelope Francis, Johnson said.

Ms. Francis had a vibrant personality, Johnson said.

"She did not like chocolate. I could not get over that," said Johnson. Ms. Francis did, however, like oatmeal-raisin cookies and bean soup, Johnson said.

A fashionable dresser, Ms. Francis had dozens of pairs of shoes in her closet. "She dressed well, but she never paid full price for anything," Johnson said.

Ms. Francis also liked small dogs, such as toy poodles. "From my earliest memories, she always had dogs - loved them. They were like her children, and there were always two or three at a time," Johnson said.

Ms. Francis also played tennis as a young woman. A lover of classical music, she studied music at Settlement Music School and always kept a piano in her West Philadelphia home.

She was a longtime member of Zoar United Methodist Church in North Philadelphia. There she served as a lay speaker, a member of a senior choir, a Women's Day chair, and an organizer of the Christmas bazaar.

In addition to her niece, Ms. Francis is survived by a sister, Anna Hudson; a brother, Joseph Francis; and several nieces and nephews.

A viewing will be from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 17, at Zoar United Methodist Church, 1204 Melon St. A funeral will be at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Hillside Cemetery, Roslyn.

Contact Vernon Clark
at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.