top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureLCHS

The Richest Woman in Latah County

This article first appeared in the May/June 2024 edition of Home & Harvest magazine. By Elaina Pierson, Office Coordinator

Portrait of Julia A. Moore later in life. LCHS Photo: Moore.J.A.01
Portrait of Julia A. Moore. LCHS Photo: Moore.J.A.01

“Men think business is hard for them but – when in addition to trying to find support for my family I have all of a mother’s duties beside, it is no wonder I find life hard.” This is a line from an 1896 letter written by Moscow, Idaho, widow Julia A. Moore. The recipient of the letter, a George Black of Whatcom, Washington, was three years overdue in paying a debt to Moore and had apparently been avoiding any communication with her. The exact amount of the debt is not stated, but she mentions that she has been obliged to pay $450 (equivalent to almost $17,000 today) in interest on top of the taxes for the debt, indicating that the balance was a sizeable one. A financial interest of this size being held by a woman, though extremely uncommon for the time, was nothing new for Julia Moore, known by some as “the richest woman in Latah County.”


Julia Ann Kneen was born in Rochester, New York, on January 14, 1844. In 1864, having moved with her family to Wisconsin, she married Charles Moore, a veteran of the Civil War who was honorably discharged after being wounded in the Battle of Shiloh.  In the year after their marriage, the couple traveled by mule team to Walla Walla, Washington, where they both taught school, Julia being the first woman to teach in the public school system there. In 1870, Charles was appointed postmaster of the city. By the end of his term four years later, he had acquired and successfully operated a farm in the area, and in 1878, started a farm implement business at Almota in Whitman County with his brother, Miles, who would serve as governor of Washington Territory 11 years later. In addition to a farm south of Almota at Mayview, the Moores also owned considerable acreage along the Snake River, as well as holding interest in the telegraph lines from Dayton to Walla Walla.


Portrait of Charles Moore. LCHS Photo: Moore.C.01
Portrait of Charles Moore. LCHS Photo: Moore.C.01

By 1882, the family – along with Charles and Julia’s four children – was in Moscow. Charles and Miles, being well acquainted with the needs of the area’s farmers, opened the first flour mill in the region at the northwest corner of what is now D and Main Streets. Along with their ever-expanding landholdings, Charles was instrumental in the creation of Latah County, spending months in Washington, D.C., to personally lobby members of Congress. Unfortunately, the stress of this endeavor took a toll on Charles’ health from which he would not recover. He passed away in August of 1888, having seen the successful creation of the county three months before.


Julia suddenly became the sole owner of hundreds of acres of land, much of which was leased out for farming and rock quarrying, as well as residential properties in and around the cities of Moscow, Pullman, and Walla Walla, and a number of various business dealings. Surely this was a daunting situation in which to find herself, but she met the challenge with determination and a keen sense for business.


The Moore home on D & Howard Sts in Moscow, later the Ursuline Academy. LCHS Photo: 01-05-199
The Moore home on D & Howard Sts in Moscow, later the Ursuline Academy. LCHS Photo: 01-05-199

Following the death of her husband, Julia and her children moved temporarily to California, then to Illinois, so that the children could benefit from the educational opportunities there, including attendance at Northwestern University. They returned to Moscow in 1896 to the large home she and Charles built on the corner of D and Howard Streets. Throughout this sojourn, Julia maintained a firm grasp of her businesses in Idaho and Washington.


The Latah County Historical Society holds an impressive collection of Julia’s correspondence, mostly held in letter books spanning from 1889 through the 1910s. Each book contains around 600 thin, parchment-type pages where her letters were copied, their addressees and page numbers noted meticulously in an index at the back. A casual glance through any one of these books reveals a savvy businesswoman with no intention of being treated unfairly.


LC Moore Box 3: Some of Julia Moore's letter books in the LCHS collection.
LC Moore Box 3: Some of Julia Moore's letter books in the LCHS collection.

One example, from January 19, 1897, is addressed to a Mr. G.L. Campbell of Pomeroy, Washington. An associate of Campbell’s had apparently heard about grain Julia had stored at the Ilia Warehouse across the Snake River from Almota and, instead of asking her directly, had inquired of her brother. Her reply, direct but polite, reads in part, “[my brother] has no considerable quantity of wheat, and it would seem that it meant my wheat.”


Another letter, dated August 3, 1889, is addressed to prominent Moscow businessman and future Idaho senator and governor William J. McConnell. She had previously issued a loan to another individual, and the note on that loan had then passed to McConnell, who offered to pay it off at fifty cents on the dollar. “This I will not accept,” she writes. “You can make any payment you desire on the note as an endorsement but it will pay the note only when such payment equals the note.”  


Correspondance to Geo Black, Whatcom WA June 29 1896 p217: Photo of the letter sent to George Black regarding his debt owed to Julia Moore.
Correspondance to Geo Black, Whatcom WA June 29 1896 p217: Photo of the letter sent to George Black regarding his debt owed to Julia Moore.

The correspondence in the collection gives special insight into the challenges she faced, not just as a woman conducting business on her own at the turn of the 20th century, but also in dealing with the frustrations of outside forces.


A letter from 1903, presumably to officials of Garfield County where the Mayview farm was located, asks that a particular road be rerouted, describing it as such: “As the east end of said road is now located it is impossible to haul up the hill from main road such a load as can be hauled from Ilia to Mayview, and it is dangerous to life and limb to drive down the hill when at all wet. We consider it important to have this part of said road re-located that we and the traveling public may be able to go to and from the main road in comparative safety.”


1914 Plat Map p10: part of a plat map of Moscow showing land owned by Julia A. Moore on the western edge of town next to the UI campus.
1914 Plat Map p10: part of a plat map of Moscow showing land owned by Julia A. Moore on the western edge of town next to the UI campus.

A 1921 letter from George Shepherd at her Mayview farm describes struggling to get grain from the farm to the storage warehouses on the Snake River. The Mayview Tramway was built to serve this purpose, dropping 1800 feet down the side of the canyon to the river.


At the time of the letter, the Tramway was regularly breaking down, and when fully operational was unable to keep up with the demand. Shepherd ends with, “It sure makes it expensive but will do the best I can I assure you.”


One would be forgiven for wondering just how rich the “richest woman in Latah County” was, but it is difficult to pinpoint her exact financial worth due to unavailability of records, difficulty tracking down land valuations and stocks, and other challenges related to how wealth was estimated. However, newspaper articles from The Daily Star-Mirror of Moscow provide some insight. On May 10, 1912, a notice was printed about the proposed bond to cover paving of city street intersections and the amount each property owner or taxpayer would have to pay. Julia’s share is listed as $14.89 - an astonishing amount when considering that the majority of taxpayers in the town would owe less than one dollar. Another article in the January 15, 1916, edition lists the Latah County entities that were taxed the most in 1915.  Julia is listed among such notables as the Potlatch Lumber Company and Washington Water Power, and her share of over $1700 is more than that of the Spokane & Inland Electric Railroad.


Pullman Herald Mar 23 1889: Advertisement for land sale in Pullman, WA
Pullman Herald Mar 23 1889: Advertisement for land sale in Pullman, WA

In 1907, Julia and her oldest daughter Flora moved back to Walla Walla, following youngest daughter Edna and her new husband. The next year, their family home on D and Howard Streets was sold and became the Ursuline Academy, a convent for Catholic nuns. Though no longer residing in Moscow, Julia returned regularly to handle her business affairs. The Daily Star-Mirror routinely published lists of new arrivals to the Hotel Moscow with Mrs. Julia A. Moore making consistent appearances. The newspaper’s “city briefs” section frequently featured a notice that she was in the city and would be available to meet anyone who wished to conduct business with her. One of these notices instructed interested parties to call Mr. Veatch of Veatch Realty to schedule an appointment with her.


By the late 1920s, her involvement in these affairs seemed to have diminished considerably. She passed away at her home in Walla Walla on January 30, 1930, at the age of 86, leaving her two daughters and two sons, Henry and Fred. She is noted in various sources as being of a prominent family both in Walla Walla and Moscow, one that was integral to the formation and growth of the fledgling cities.


 Julia A. Moore in 1865 as a teacher in Walla Walla, WA
Julia A. Moore in 1865 as a teacher in Walla Walla, WA

For 42 years following the death of her husband, Julia A. Moore persevered, providing for her children while protecting and expanding the family business. It is unclear whether she was formally educated in such matters or if it came to her naturally, but in any case, the accomplishment of being a successful mother and businesswoman of her time is still admirable over a century later.

 

165 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page