Finding Eldorado (my search for The Iron Woman)


After doing seven of these research blogs on sideshow/circus performers I was running out of candidates and, truth be told, was yearning to move on to something else. I thought of maybe doing Titanic survivors but in the 103 years since the sinking it turns out they’ve been fairly well researched. It was disappointing but not really surprising due to the interest in the Titanic since it sank. 

I’ve always had a soft spot for the women while doing genealogy since they seem to get lost in the shuffle. A lot of this is due to maiden name changes but also the fact that much of the history was recorded in a man’s world. So with this in mind I started looking for women to track down. Then I came across a list of female inventors. Several of them appeared interesting but as soon as I read Eldorado’s brief bio I knew I had found the first one I wanted to research.

After scouring a few sites I got the general layout of her life. She was born in 1862, never married or had children, and started as a teacher before deciding that selling insurance was more profitable. And she was very good at it. One source I saw later said she never did a contract for less than 50,000 dollars. Meanwhile she enjoyed tinkering with iron and eventually realized that inventing made even more money. 

She ended up starting her own manufacturing company in Moline, Illinois. She hired only women over 40 years of age due to the fact that she basically detested men. Her motto can best be summed up in a quote by her:  “The only way to get along is to seek the difficult job, always do it well, and see that you get paid for it properly. Oh yes, and don’t forget to exploit men all you can.  Because if you don’t, they will exploit you.”

She invented a small lightweight portable iron, a small ironing board for travel and a collapsible hat-rack. She made good money from these but her fame came from her invention of an airplane muffler. She filed for the patent in 1919 and received it in 1923. Unfortunately she had burned many bridges with her anti-man attitude and her reputation about it preceded her when she went to New York to obtain financing. This caused her to spend all her money, go on welfare, and then to die there penniless in 1932. A charitable organization took care of her cremation and had her ashes shipped to family in Missouri.

I had enough to get started with her tree but felt fairly sure that Eldorado was probably just a nickname. And with the surname Jones I was not looking forward to the research if I did not know her true name. On a lark I did a general “search for all records” on Ancestry using only the name Eldorado Jones and her birth year. I was stunned to see her pop up in the 1870 Census with that name. Since this census was in Missouri it felt reasonable that this was probably her.

This census finds them in Palmyra, Missouri. Her father is Alonzo Jones, 39 years old and born in Kentucky. His occupation is listed as hotel keeper. Her mother’s name is Mary Jane, 39 years old also and from Pennsylvania. The odd thing about this couple is the two columns about the value of their real estate. Column eight shows Mary Jane as the apparent owner of the real estate, valued at 4000 dollars. This was a tidy sum in those days. The personal property is assigned to Alonzo and valued at 1000 dollars. Normally this would all be assigned to the head of the family. So did Mary Jane come from wealth? Also it appears the real estate may be the hotel that Alonzo runs as there are two boarders with them.

Next on the census is Eldorado’s sister, Alice D. She shows as being 14 years old and having been born in Indiana. Next is Ada J (actually it’s Adda J), 12 years old and born in Iowa. Then there is Eldorado. She is seven and was born in Missouri. All three girls are noted as having attended school during the past year. 1870 Census

After adding all this information to her tree on Ancestry I went back to searching, namely the next census in 1880. The only problem was that I found two of them, one in June and one in November. This in and of itself isn’t that unusual. Sometimes people move and get caught up in two of them. And that was my first thought since they were both listed as different districts in St. Louis. However a look at the top right of the first one done in June of 1880 shows a stamped “First Enumeration Rejected” in the upper right. I have never seen this before in twenty years of doing genealogy. And if you compare the families on both most of them are the same people. 

In either case Alonzo is now listed as from Vermont in the first one and his parents’ birth places are not listed. In the second census his birth is back to Kentucky and his parents as both from Maryland. In both of them his occupation is now physician. So he’s gone from hotel keeper to a doctor in 10 years? This turned out later to be quite an interesting story.

Mary Jane and the daughters are all there and the information is correct. The only real differences are that in the first one Alice is at home but she is a dressmaker in the second one. Adda is a milliner (hat-maker) in the first one but she’s at home in the second. Eldorado is attending school in both and is now 18 years old. One thing to note in the second one is that even though Alonzo is listed neither he nor Mary have the marriage block checked. This comes into play later along with that “physician” thing. 1st 1880 Census   2nd 1880 Census

At this point I searched for and found Alonzo and Mary’s marriage. They were married in Tippecanoe County, Indiana on 29 January 1855. Her name was Mary Jane Williamson. I love finding maiden names because it turns them into a person instead of just a “Mrs”. Sorry, but there is no document to show for the marriage.

If you’re a genealogist or you’ve read my blogs you already know that the 1890 Census doesn’t exist but for new readers it was destroyed in a fire so we next have to go to the 1900 Census. This time I found them in Saint Ferdinand, Missouri.

Mary is shown as a 69 year old widow born in September of 1830. She states that she has borne four children, three of whom are living. No occupation for her is listed. Her father was from Ireland and her mother from Pennsylvania. She rents her house and it isn’t a farm.

If Alonzo died then no one had his death info. Even after looking for death records and checking other family trees online, they all just said that he died before 1900. One had an 1886 death date but no source for this information, like most trees online. I ended up putting him aside for now.

Alice is now 44 years old, born in October of 1855 and single. She also has no occupation. Eldorado is now “Dora” and is single and now 37 years old, having been born October of 1862. No occupation for her is listed either. 1900 Census

So what happened to Adda J? Well, it turned out she had gone up to Tippecanoe County in Indiana and gotten married in the town of Lafayette on 28 July 1887 to George H Jessup. Although I found six sources for this marriage not a one of them had an actual document to be able to show here. I was able to find them in the 1900 Census though. They were also living in Saint Ferdinand, like her mother. 

George Jessup shows to be 48, born in March of 1852. It shows him and Adda as being married for 13 years and that he and his parents are all from New York. His occupation is a railroad clerk. They own their own home, but with a mortgage.

Adda is now 42, born in September of 1857 in Iowa. She states she has borne three children, two of whom are living. Unfortunately I have yet to find either hers or her mother’s deceased child. Next up is Adda’s oldest daughter, Emma. She is 12, born in April of 1888. Then comes Mary A (Mary Alice), eight and born in September of 1891. 1900 Census

For 1910 I first searched for Eldorado’s mother, Mary. I found her in Algonquin, Illinois. She is now an 80 year old widow who is renting a farm with one farmhand employed. This time she doesn’t include the deceased child and says she bore three with three living. Alice is still with her, 50 years old and still single with no occupation. 1910 Census

Adda J and George Jessup are at this time in 1910 living in Ferguson (yes, THAT Ferguson), Missouri. Ferguson literally started as a train depot on a few acres of land and was incorporated in 1894 into St. Louis County.  George is still working for the railroad. They are still owners of their home and still paying a mortgage. Adda has now also omitted the deceased child, as her mother did, and says two for two. It also shows that their marriage was the first for both her and George. Their daughters are both still there. Emma is now 21, single, and a school teacher. Mary Alice is now 17. 1910 Census

After finding Eldorado listed in the 1900 Census as Dora, I added that name to her profile in my tree to include it in the search terms. I will also refer to her from here on as Dora just to make the typing easier. When I did a search for her after this I ended up finding a passport application for her done at the U.S. Embassy in London, England on 6 January 1904. It states that she was born in Palmyra, Missouri on 8 October 1862 and that her current residence in the U.S. is in New York City, where her occupation is advertising. She also says she left America on 13 November 1903 and is now staying at the Savoy Hotel in London. Her plan is to return to America within two years and that she wants the passport for the purpose of traveling. She is listed as 41 years old and five feet and seven inches tall. Passport

My searches for her in the 1910 Census had failed so far so the next I found her was in the 1913 and 1914 city directories for Moline, Illinois. She is residing at the Manufacturers Hotel in that city in 1913 and 1527-1/2 5th Avenue in 1914. She also lists herself as the manager of the Sun Utilities Company in both of them. I was unable to find much on this company other than that it was originally in Chicago and moved to Moline. Dora was listed as the head of it in both locations. 1913 Directory  1914 Directory

She is still in the Moline directories for 1915 through 1917. She is back residing at the Manufacturers Hotel but her job description has changed. It’s now listed as President and Treasurer of the Sun Utilities Company and Vice President and Secretary of the Moline Muffler Manufacturing Company. After this she is not in Moline’s directories. I had read somewhere earlier that her plant was shut down during WW1 so I assume this is why she is suddenly gone. Since she filed for the airplane muffler patent in 1919 she may have used this time to develop and test it. 1915 Directory  1916 Directory  1917 Directory

Speaking of 1917, this is the year that Dora’s mother died. Mary’s death info stated that she was born 8 September 1830 in Meadville, Pennsylvania. She died in Crystal Lake, Illinois on 24 June 1917 and was buried back in Palmyra, Missouri. I have yet to find out which cemetery though.

This takes us to the 1920 Census and I’ll start with Dora’s sisters. I’ve yet to find Alice D in 1920 but she ended up passing away back in Ferguson on 20 October 1923. She died from acute myocarditis. She was single and, like Dora, apparently had never married. Her birth info was 8 October 1855 in Pennsylvania. This is why I’ve stated in my other blogs that death certificates are only as good as the informant. In this case the informant was Adda’s daughter, Mary Alice Jessup. She listed Pennsylvania as the birth location for Alonzo, Mary, and Alice D. The certificate also shows that Alice D was buried in Palmyra. Death Certificate

For Dora’s sister, Adda, the 1920 Census finds Adda, George and both daughters in Saint Ferdinand, Missouri. George is now an accountant for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Adda is still a housewife. Emma is 31 and single and now a stenographer for some wholesale hardware place and Mary Alice is now 26 and a public school teacher.

Adda’s 1920 Census was taken on the 23 January. On 3 October 1920 her daughter Emma got married in Ferguson to a Joseph Barnet Harris. 1920 Census

Again I was unable to find Dora in the census but I know she was in New York City because I found her there in the city directory living at 21 E 21st Street. 1920 Directory

The following year, on 11 September 1921, George Jessup died at Baptist Hospital in St. Louis from chronic myocarditis. Adda was the informant. Death Certificate

In 1922 I found a news story about a charity ball held in NYC at the Waldorf Astoria for the benefit of disabled veterans. Dora was a member of the ball committee. 1922 Victory Ball   That same year Dora was still living at 21 E 21st Street according to the city directory. 1922 Directory.  1923 is the year she was issued the patent for her airplane muffler. This is an image of the design and a picture from the testing of it.  Muffler.  Here is an article about it:  News.  In 1925 she still shows up in the NYC directory living at 139 E 27th Street. 1925 Directory

I came across a great interview with Dora from 17 January 1926 in the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. In it she starts off discussing the utter poverty they lived in when she was young. This is quite different than the wealth I thought her mother had. Maybe Alonzo wasted it? She says she ran errands for neighbors but after 10 weekends of doing it she had only earned a dollar. This poverty apparently lead to her desire to become wealthy to get her family luxuries. 

After the family moved to St. Louis Dora concentrated on school, taking as many courses as possible in the hopes of becoming a teacher. She ended up being offered a teaching position in Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, in Indiana. The pay was 40 dollars a month. Her stay there was miserable and filled with “years of drudgery” but she stayed there for some time teaching to help with her mother’s upkeep and that of her invalid sister, whom I assume was Alice. This explains why Alice lived with her mother for so long. 

Dora ended up moving to Chicago, took a stenographer course and went to work for an insurance company for 10 dollars a week. While there she noticed some people made much more than others. She realized that the people who worked harder made more so she started working harder, wrote insurance and was making several hundred dollars a month within six months.

Dora attended the World’s Fair in Chicago and was able to see and hear many successful women from all over the world, including Susan B Anthony. This is when she decided that a woman’s place in the business world did not have to be at the foot of the ladder and that she wanted to climb that ladder.

She later took an advertising job with a medical trade journal and made a hefty salary. She also traveled a lot with this position, such as that trip to England from earlier in this blog. During this time she realized that someone with a patent and a monopoly on that item would make tons of money. And by now it was all about money for her. So she needed something to invent, manufacture, advertise and sell. 

Her first invention was an anti-damp salt shaker and it sold very well. So well that she decided against advertising since word-of-mouth did just fine. By now the inventing “bug” had bitten her and next she invented a portable ironing board that had a two pound portable electric iron that was included and even packed away inside a special compartment in the ironing board. Even though it was designed for travel she found that many people bought and used them for their home, probably as a space-saver.

Dora started Eldorado Inventions and began manufacturing on a small scale in 1913 in Moline, Illinois and she really did only hire women at that time. Later, when manufacturing auto mufflers, she did hire some men. Dora claimed that there were more natural mechanics among women than men. Her belief was that men only wanted the jobs for the money. Women just loved the work. She had called the Illinois State employment office and asked for women over 40 because she found them the most loyal and conscientious workers. 

During the First World War her manufacturing died down as more places were gearing up for war goods so she shut down her plant, arranged for jobs in other factories for her workers and she herself went to work for the United States Employment Service in Washington. She apparently didn’t care for it and left the instant the war was over.

At this point Dora moved her entire plant to New York City but, in her own words, “economic conditions in New York were against satisfactory manufacturing arrangements” and I assume that means she was unable to grease the right palms with cash.

To make money for financing she got into real estate sales in Alabama, which so far I haven’t been able to verify. Dora had even planned to move her operations to the south since raw materials and power were cheaper there, not to mention the labor. 

Asked why she never married she laughed and said she never made enough money to support a husband and that men tended to be nothing but obstacles to her in the business world, when they weren’t trying to cheat her. Dora was also known for her charity, especially towards poor women. There is more good information in the article. Dora’s Interview 

After reading the interview I went back to searching for Dora in other places she had mentioned. Assuming she had meant the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair I concentrated there first. Found her in the 1896 city directory living at 305 LaSalle Avenue. She is listed as a stenographer and goes by Dora. When I checked for her in 1897 she wasn’t listed there as Dora, El Dorado, or Eldorado. 1896 Directory

In the 1889 and 1890 Chicago directories I found her listed as Dora. She is a bookkeeper and lives at 4408 Langley Avenue in 1889 and at 4345 Berkeley Avenue in 1890. Also found her again in Chicago in 1891. Dora is now the manager of the Women’s Department of the National Life Insurance Company but still lives at 4345 Berkeley Avenue. She wasn’t listed in the 1888 directory. 1889 Directory  1890 Directory  1891 Directory.  

Even though the interview was in 1926 I found her in Birmingham, Alabama in 1929 so apparently she was still trying to get something going down south. She is living at the Hotel Morris and this time goes by ElDorado. She wasn’t in the directory for either 1928 or 1930 though. 1929 Directory

Now let’s move on to the 1930 Census. Let’s start with Dora’s sister, Adda. In 1930 she is living in Ferguson with her daughter Mary Alice. Emma and her 7 year old son, Joseph Jessup Harris, are also living there. It shows Emma as a widow but she was in fact divorced. Mary Alice is 35, a school teacher and still single. 1930 Census-1  1930 Census-2.  Adda passed away on 14 October 1933 in Ferguson. The cause of death was mucous colitis. Death Certificate

I wasn’t able to find Dora in the 1930 Census either but I found mention of her living in NYC in the New York Times. She was living at the American Women’s Club on 353 W. 57th Street. This meant she wasn’t wealthy anymore. I did find this story on her though from 16 October 1930.  Story

Before I get to Dora’s death I’ll finish off her family members. In the 1940 Census Mary Alice still has Emma and her son living with them. She never married as far as I can tell and it appears that she probably died in St. Louis in January of 1985.

Emma never remarried and died in September of 1969 in St. Louis. Emma’s son, Joseph, married two or three times and died in Colorado on 26 July 2001. I believe he had a couple of children but I didn’t research them. They would probably be in their 50s or 60s now.

This brings us back to Dora. Supposedly a neighbor went to invite her to dinner and didn’t get an answer. She found an open window and found Dora dead. This was 26 November 1932 in Manhattan. The American Women’s Club where she had once lived arranged her funeral proceedings, namely that she was cremated and shipped back to her family in Missouri.

In an ironic twist, I found a news story about her done a couple days after she died and it mentions that a Montreal manufacturer was interested in a gasoline engine muffler she’d been working on and was to have dinner with her the night she died. What might have become of her if she had lived and gone to that dinner? The article also talks about her previous company, Eldorado Inventions, Inc. It says she employed “chiefly” women workers, not “only” women workers as is generally accepted. It appears some distortion has occurred in the retelling of this over the years. I also came across this story about raising money for her funeral expenses.  29 Nov 1932

I went back to work on Dora’s mother hoping to find if she came from money but was unable to pin anything concrete on her. So I decided to get back to Dora’s father, Alonzo. Since regular searches didn’t help I went to the newspapers. If he died it would have been between the 1880 Census and the one from 1900. So I cut the time period in half and did a search with his name, 1890-1900, and in Missouri.

I came up with an article talking about his death as a pauper. He had died the week before so he died 6 July 1899 in St. Louis. According to the article he had deserted his family 25 or 30 years before, moved to New Orleans, married another lady and eventually returned to Missouri. A collection had been taken up to fulfill his request to be buried back in Palmyra. They also referred to him as “Doctor”.  Pauper

Well, this was good and all but I came across another article from a week later that discussed a letter to the paper from Alonzo’s son-in-law, George Jessup. According to George, 18 years ago (about 1881) Alonzo had eaten breakfast, packed a trunk, and left without a word. He and some woman they did not know headed for New Orleans, where he stayed for three years. They had also at some point gotten married. He then returned to St. Louis (about 1884) and commenced his business as a “magnetic doctor” (so essentially he was a medical quack). He then goes on to say that Alonzo was not a pauper and had done very well until just three years before. 20 Jul 1899

After seeing this I searched in New Orleans newspapers for him. I found this cute tidbit from 6 April 1883. It says that an “alleged Doctor Alonzo De Jones” was arrested on a warrant for the distribution of obscene publications. Apparently the “De” stood for degenerate. Arrest

I think I am finally starting to see where Dora’s despising of men may have started. I don’t doubt, given the time-frame we are talking about, that any woman trying to get ahead would get flustered by and resentful of men in general but Alonzo sure didn’t help Dora’s attitude and he wasn’t a great role model for his children or his gender. 

In the end Dora was a driven woman and a person of her convictions. Her one problem was her inability to see the forest for the trees. Whether she hated men or not, she never could figure out that it was a man’s world at the time and you had better learn to navigate it if you want to succeed as a woman. She ended up letting her personal feelings affect her business decisions, causing her to lose everything she had built. I think today though, she would have been a force to reckon with.

Update 9 Sep 2015:  Found this little item in the Palmyra paper from 13 July 1899. It basically says that Alonzo had left Palmyra about 1874 and moved to St. Louis. A few years later he and Mary Jane separated and that is when he apparently went to New Orleans. Later he returned and married again to someone in Missouri. It also talks about the fact that the missing deceased child that I can’t find is buried in the same cemetery.  Alonzo

Update 21 Jan 2016 12:45 am   Discovered a little more about Alonzo recently. First off is I found some of his tax records that cover the 1863 to 1866 time-frame. In them he is always listed as in retail sales and/or retail liquor sales. In the earliest and one other he is listed as a “physician”. So he started his quack business much earlier than thought. It turned out he was selling “healing potions”. Here is the earliest one, from 1863, that I just mentioned:  Alonzo 1863 Tax

He was living as early as 1877 in St. Louis because here he is in the city directory for that year:  1877 Directory

The last thing I recently found was where his widow filed for is Civil War pension. The only problem was it was contested. Both wives are shown as filing for the same pension. Pension.  Alonzo had died 6 July 1899. If you look you’ll see that his second wife, Estelle, filed on 15 Jul 1899. Three weeks later, on 4 August 1899, his first wife filed. At least now we have the name of his second wife but the question is why is she considered the contesting widow. Supposedly he and his first wife were divorced so I would think she would be the contesting wife. Plus, she filed AFTER the first wife.

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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

Comments are welcome and encouraged. You’ll find them here near the bottom or a link to them near the top. Also feel free to share, like or follow this or any of my blogs.


4 thoughts on “Finding Eldorado (my search for The Iron Woman)

  1. Hi. Very interesting indeed learning more about Eldorado (Dora) from a genealogical perspective. My research was for the April A-Z Challenge (and brevity was encouraged). Learning about her, however, I did wonder where her strong dislike of men had originated, and agree that her father as a role model certainly didn’t help. Interesting too….you would not likely read today that a husband had deserted his family in an obit! A sad legacy for sure and added to this unsavory tidbit, he was a quack. Excellent research on your part! Thank you for the link and an enjoyable read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. I am so glad you enjoyed it. I had to feel sorry for her, her sisters and her mother. I was just discussing with someone the emotional attachment you get from some of the research projects.


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