About Mrs. Moore, optimist

When Mrs. Moore caused a private bank in Perrysville, Ohio, to fail in September 1911, the newspaper reporting the story, the Cleveland Ohio Press, did not call her the “only female railroad promoter in the United States,” they simply called her, “Mrs. Moore, an optimist.”

An illustration of Mrs. A. M. Moore when she was known as Mrs. Alice. M. Butler (her first marriage). Source: Sept. 13, 1906 issue of the Monmouth Warren County Democrat, Monmouth, Ill.

Supposedly, she was born as Alice M. Frederick at an unknown date in the small town of Tipton, Iowa, outside of Davenport. She was related to the House of Hohenzollern of Germany, with ancestors going back to Frederick the Great of Prussia. She had a sister, but otherwise nothing is known of her early life. On April 12, 1887, though, in Audubon, Iowa, she married C.F. Butler (she married twice).

Mrs. Alice M. Butler she soon showed an interest in technology and railroads. In 1897, while in Des Moines, Iowa, she received a patent for a railroad-lubricating device. In late 1901, she became involved with another promoter in seeking a franchise from the Des Moines City Council to construct and operate a street railway system in Des Moines, with a link to a proposed interurban line to Colfax. She said that Cleveland capitalists were interested in the venture. This project was soon extended to include trolley lines to a number of other towns around Des Moines. Unfortunately, another company held certain rights-of-way, so in mid-1902 she sold her rights to the rival company.

In May of 1903, Mrs. Alice M. Butler, began divorce proceedings against C. F. Butler, saying that for 10 years she had to support their family with about $12,000 she had earned from her inventions and her promotion and building of electric railway lines. C. F. Butler was trying to control her business projects, and was interfering with her efforts.

The next year, in September 1904, Mrs. Alice M. Butler, is noted as the general manager of the St. Joseph, Stanberry and Northern railroad in St. Joseph, Missouri, and where a Mr. S. F. Moore was secretary of the company. St. Joseph granted her a franchise the next year and she collected $7,500 from farmers along the proposed route, saying that if things did not work out their money would be refunded.

In 1905, Mrs. Alice M. Butler started receiving attention in the press as an example of what a determined woman could do. She said, “I find it easier to capitalize a $2,000,000 or $3,000,000 project than a $500,000 proposition.” Another newspaper described her as being a hustler, but quiet-voiced and ladylike, and also unassuming and extremely modest. She said capitalists did not care if a man or woman had an idea as long as the capitalist made money. Politicians always treated her like a lady, and she was always on the go. In 1907, she was back in Iowa working on a Davenport-Dubuque interurban project. The Topeka Daily State Journal in October 1907, said, “Mrs. Butler is a shrewd business woman and had made a success of all the enterprises she has entered. She had promoted more miles of electric road in Iowa that any man.”

It appears 1908 was not a good year for Mrs. Alice M. Butler. In January, she was granted a divorce from C. F. Butler on grounds of desertion dating back to November 1903. Then, 24 hours later, she secretly married S. F. Moore, the chief civil engineer on her projects. This took place after she had been forced into bankruptcy by creditors when her St. Joseph project failed. At that point in her life her assets were just her clothing and personal effects worth $150. And she owed S. F. Moore, her chief civil engineer, almost $7,000, for work he had done for her. This debt was canceled when she married him. Quite a woman.

Ever the optimist, she and her new husband were soon at work in promoting an interurban railroad from Peoria to Rock Island, Illinois, having surveyed half the line by October 1908. She told interested parties that the next step was the securing of the right of way. They were mystified by this woman and wanted more information. Mrs. Moore provided this on January 5, 1909, when Mr. Roberts of Roberts & Abbot of Cleveland discussed the engineering phases of her project. Roberts’ company had been involved in building some 150 electric railroads from Pennsylvania to Texas, and Roberts was enthusiastic about the Rock Island-Peoria project. But too many other options by other promoters for the Rock Island-Peoria project caused Mr. and Mrs. S. F. Moore to move on to something new.

Thus in Perrysville, Ohio, Mrs. S. F. Moore organized the Twentieth Century Clay Company with a capital stock of $300,000. It was incorporated in Cleveland in April of 1909. Mr. S. F. Moore and Mrs. Moore’s brother-in-law, C. L. Morton, were among the incorporators. Over time Mrs. S. F. Moore borrowed small sums from the private Perrysville Banking Company to finance the Twentieth Century Clay Company. Her brother-in-law, C. L. Morton, was the cashier at the Perrysville Bank and cleared these loans. In the end, she had borrowed about $10,000 for the clay company. Then she started borrowing money, some $19,000, to promote her Rappahannock railroad effort. Mr. and Mrs. Moore had signed a note as security for these loans, and the bank’s cashier, C. L. Morton, accepted that note. But bank had only $42,000 on deposit and it had to close its doors on Sept. 1, 1911.

Although Mrs. S. F. Moore and her husband appeared in Sperryville in late September 1910, with a proposal for a railroad from Little Washington to Culpeper, the Perrysville Bank failure in 1911 eventually brought that railroad effort to a temporary halt.

Don Audette
About Don Audette 23 Articles

Don Audette has a place in Sperryville, is a longtime member of the Rappahannock Lions and writes about local history in his “Yesterdays” column for the Rappahannock News.