Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 1

Newspaper illustration of a woman wearing glasses and hoop earrings. Her dark hair is swept up in a bun.
While on this topic, Madame De San wishes it distinctly understood that she is not conducting a cheap fortune telling business similar to that of clairvoyants and mediums formerly here. She caters only to the better classes and guarantees satisfaction.
- St. Joseph (Missouri) Herald, 21 November 1890.

I have been trying to find the origin story for Estelle's career as a scientific life reader. Some later news accounts claim she began this part of her life in St. Louis, but I think I've found evidence of the real beginning of the story across the state in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1890. The timing is right, and the language matches, but is this Estelle?

Listen to the episode or access the transcript below.

Next: Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 2

Transcript for Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 1

[00:00:04] Narrator: Estelle True-Nell was a remarkable woman. Our modern era has forgotten her, and I think that's too bad. I'd like to introduce you to her amazing life, one career at a time. Along the way, we might pick up a tip or two for ourselves, as we learn How to Be Estelle.

[00:00:24] Narrator: I've been trying to figure out the origin story for Estelle's career as a scientific life reader. The strongest clues I have are for a very solid beginning in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1890. The language is right, the timing is good, and I can place Estelle's children performing a Vaudeville act at the Eden Musee in St. Joseph at that same time. (I'll share more about *that* part of the story in the near future.)

[00:00:49] Narrator: The first clue is an item in the Personals column of the St. Joseph Herald on April 2, 1890. It says this:

[00:00:57] Newspaper: Mrs. Dr. De San, the mind reader, will soon be in the city. She has a great reputation as an adviser and is superior to the ordinary counselors. Her headquarters will be announced when she arrives, in The Herald.

[00:01:12] Narrator: Other mind readers appear in St. Joseph over that spring and summer, but we don't see a mention of Mrs. Dr. De San until the fall. In November 1890, though, she arrives with a splash:

[00:01:23] Newspaper: We are to have the greatest mind reader and fortune teller in the world with us for a short time. This lady is by far the finest we have ever had here. She is the inventor of a small peculiar instrument called the Transmitter of Thought. It was gotten up for her by Mr. Edison and a cut of it will appear in these columns next week. She also has the Egyptian Magic Mirror which you have heard so much about. In it you can see your future husband or wife, enemy or friend. A suite of parlors have been secured for her on the northwest corner of Sixth and Felix streets. She invites the better class. Her charges will be found to be higher than the ordinary ones, but her phenomenal predictions will be found to be true and a benefit to all.

[00:02:08] Narrator: The next day, we find an ad - complete with an illustration of the Magic Mirror and one of Edison's Transmitter of Thought - at 303 North Sixth Street. According to the ad, Mrs. Dr. De San has recently secured "this peculiar glass," along with mesmeric charms that will restore lost affection.

[00:02:27] Narrator: A few days later, she's also advertising the Cleopatra Amulet. That's actually how I found her. The advertising shares several things in common with Estelle's later life reader ads. The three tools - magic mirror, Transmitter, and amulet - are a key combination. The ads also take care to mention that the good Doctor's parlors have been arranged so you will meet no strangers. That promise of confidentiality is something we see consistently in Estelle's advertising. "Matters of the most delicate nature" are treated with confidentiality and a private interview.

[00:03:00] Narrator: One ad in mid-November 1890 declares her to be the "distinguished world famed and only real natural mind reader and fortune teller in the country." It says she "understands the science of the 'Persian and Hindoo magic' or ancient charm-working." She's bringing in the mystery but claiming the science of it. That tracks with Estelle.

[00:03:20] Narrator: She also advertises many of Estelle's services:

[00:03:25] Advertisement: Prepares Egyptian talismans which overcome your enemies, remove family troubles, restore lost affections, make marriage with the one you love - no failure, remove evil influences and bad habits. Will give correct information on law suits, sickness, death, divorce, absent friends, mysterious disappearances, everything. Never failing advice to young men and what business best adapted for speedy riches, stock speculation a specialty; recovers lost, stolen or buried property; locates treasures or minerals. Tells if your lover is true or false, and shows picture of future husband, wife, enemy or friend, with name, age, and date of marriage.

[00:04:08] Narrator: Confidence is also very much a standard part of Estelle's ads:

[00:04:12] Advertisement: The madame wishes it thoroughly understood that she advertises nothing but what she can do, and would not be classed with the many cheap pretenders found in every city. All who are in trouble, whose fond hopes have been blasted, who have been deceived and disappointed through false predictions of others, before giving up to despair, are invited to call and be convinced of the true statements of the above without delay.

[00:04:35] Narrator: Now, there is a chance that this is not Estelle. Despite the similarities throughout the Mrs. Dr. De San ads, there one line that doesn't quite sound like her:

[00:04:45] Advertisement: Madam can convince the most skeptical, as it is a well known fact throughout the world since the days of ancient witchery that only a seventh daughter born with a veil can reveal the future correctly.

[00:04:56] Narrator: Later in her career, Estelle denounced witchery and the tradition of the seventh son or daughter as unscientific nonsense. Still, this should be early in her career, so it could be that she was borrowing from the standard language other clairvoyants used in their ads at the time.

[00:05:12] Narrator: Mrs. Dr. De San used a literary approach that matches with Estelle's known advertising style. Here she is in the November 15 edition of the St. Joseph Gazette:

[00:05:22] Advertisement: Know Thyself. Those words stood above the temple of the Delphic god. They are truths now and were then, never to be overthrown. This is an age of progression. We are forcibly reminded of the above saying when we remember that there is a lady in this city who can read our very thoughts. We refer to Mrs. Dr. De San, the mind reader and fortune teller, northeast corner Sixth and Jule. She is truthful and reliable.

[00:05:54] Narrator: We also find pieces of the pattern in a "news" item dropped into the columns of the St. Joseph Gazette on November 16:

[00:06:01] Advertisement: A Wonderful Glass. This peculiar glass referred to last week by the lady mind-reader and fortune teller, Mrs. Dr. De San, northeast corner of Sixth and Jule streets, has been showing up some very strange things. A lady on Felix street has been having trouble losing things. She called on the above fortune teller, was shown in the magic mirror, and there was the guilty one. And it was the one least suspected, but one well known to her. It might be well to investigate this as we are having robberies, murders and accidents every day. This lady you will find to be altogether a different person from the class formerly visiting this city.

[00:06:40] Narrator: She wasn't the first person to use fear of crime to grab attention and sell something, and we only have to look online today to know that she was not the last.

[00:06:50] Narrator: An ad toward the end of November quotes several major newspapers which sing her praises:

[00:06:56] Newspaper (Man): "The most reliable fortune-teller ever here." - Buffalo Evening News

[00:07:01] Newspaper (Woman): "A strangely gifted woman." - Toledo Blade.

[00:07:04] Newspaper (Man): "Truthful and reliable in all her business relations." - Denver Rocky Mountain News.

[00:07:09] Newspaper (Woman): "Beyond a doubt it is a sixth-sense." - Kansas City Evening News.

[00:07:14] Narrator: Now, I do find ads for Estelle and/or Mrs. Dr. De San in major papers, including the Rocky Mountain News, but I haven't found those particular phrases, yet. They could be there, though, and I just haven't found those issues.

[00:07:27] Narrator: Several accounts describe Estelle as traveling with a trunk full of letters of reference, testimonials, and glowing press clippings like those. The St. Joseph Gazette was actually one of them, saying:

[00:07:38] Newspaper: Consult the mind reader and fortune teller, northeast corner Sixth and Jule. She is truthful and reliable.

[00:07:46] Narrator: She also demonstrates results, as we learn in this item dropped into the columns of three St. Joseph newspapers: The Herald, News-Press, and Gazette:

[00:07:54] Advertisement: Among the many peculiar happenings at the police ball was the wonderful test made of the Mind Reader and Fortune Tellers' Magic Mirror. Two cases are positively known where the ladies, on being introduced to their partners, recognized at once the faces shown them in Mrs. Dr. De San's magic mirror. One gentleman was quite dumbfounded when introduced to a lady whose face he had seen in the mirror.

[00:08:19] Advertisement: While on this topic, Madame De San wishes it distinctly understood that she is not conducting a cheap fortune telling business similar to that of clairvoyants and mediums formerly here. She caters only to the better classes and guarantees satisfaction. Her patrons have always been of the best, and a call at her parlors, corner Sixth and Jule streets, will convince the most skeptical of that fact.

[00:08:43] Narrator: This not-cheap fortune telling business also promises to solve problems I didn't even know people had. If you've ever received a Thanksgiving present and questioned the motives behind it, she could help you:

[00:08:56] Advertisement: If those receiving Thanksgiving presents wish to know the motive that prompted the giver will call on the lady mind-reader and fortune-teller at 303 North Sixth street, she can tell. In fact, she can tell you all about the intentions of the other party. She is the greatest in her line.

[00:09:12] Narrator: So, the tools are there: magic mirror, Transmitter of Thought, and Cleopatra Amulet. The promises and the language are very similar. But, is it Estelle? We'll look at some more clues next time, on How to Be Estelle

Next: Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 2