Women of Warrenville: Harriet Warren Dodson 1817 - 1890

It’s Women’s History Month and during this month of March we will be featuring important women to Warrenville’s history. We are starting off Women’s History Month 2019 highlighting one of the seven sisters of Colonel Warren, Harriet Dodson.

Many know the story of Colonel Julius Warren arriving in this area in 1833 to create the town that would become Warrenville, but not many know much about the most important women in his life. Julius Warren was the only son in his family and had the important job of helping his parents, Nancy and Daniel Warren, find seven suitable husbands for his seven sisters. The Warren sisters were successfully married to seven well-established men who helped to shape northern Illinois. Please enjoy reading a little bit about one of the seven sisters that we featured in our 2016 program The Seven Sisters of Colonel Warren. You can also read about the three oldest sisters on our former blog site www.warrenvillehistorical.wordpress.com.


Harriet Newell Warren was born on July 18, 1817, in New York. When the family moved to Illinois, she was only 16 years old, making the westward journey with her mother and younger sisters: twins, Mary and Maria, and Jane. Following other members of the family by a few months, the girls and Nancy Warren left in October, paying a wagoner to lead them to Chicago. Harriet reflected later in life that she and her mother longed for New York, but the younger three sisters enjoyed the journey as an adventure of a lifetime. The three-and-a-half-week trip proved more difficult than the women had expected, especially for Nancy whose health was very fragile. Many trails were not well traveled, accommodations along the way were scarce and the closer they got to their destination the more Native Americans they encounter, which was very troubling to pioneers in those days who were often scared by the rumors that swirled through camps and growing Anglo settlements. Although the Warren women never had to deal with any more troubles than their extremely tired feet, it was no doubt a nervous time for them.

Drawing from Leone Schmidt’s book In and Around Warrenville

Drawing from Leone Schmidt’s book In and Around Warrenville

After a short stay in Chicago, they head out to the DuPage River, where their father and oldest siblings had started a new home in what would become McDowell Gove. They were happy to see the rest of their family, but a little disappointed that their new home lacked many of the comforts they had left behind in New York. When they mentioned their disappointment they were quickly put in their place by the other family members who had been mostly camping under the stars for the larger part of the preceding summer and early fall.

Despite their meager home, the family survived the winter without incident and began planning their new life along the DuPage River. Julius made land claims north of their early settlement and began planning what would become Warrenville.  By the spring of 1834, DuPage was starting to feel more like home.

Many of what we know of Harriet’s life, we know from her memoir. She wrote in her writings that it was composed only for her daughter and other children and not to be shared. We are thankful though that some family member protected the journal and donated it to us as it holds many treasurers and memories of the Warren family that would have been lost. 

Perhaps Harriet didn’t want her writings shared because of some of the personal details contained inside. Although our standards today don’t deem anything she wrote scandalous in any way, she did reveal at least one event in her life that was a bit shocking for the 1830s.   

Any sort of dating as we would know it today in 2019 was nothing the Warren girls could have even imagined. Harriet’s first encounter with courting took place in 1835 when a young courter, a Mr. King, came calling. Escorted by a brother-in-law of Captain Joseph Naper, Mr. King entered the small Warren home in McDowell Grove and approached Harriett with the simple request to “see her alone for a few minutes.” Harriett, caught off guard, responded that she was “not prepared to answer such a question.” The young man didn’t need to hear another word and fled the home, never to return, no doubt heartbroken.

Although that encounter did not lead to a marriage for Harriett, she was happily married to Christian Dodson within 4 years of the family arriving in the new county in 1838. The Warrens first met Christian Dodson when Colonel Warren purchased the wood for his first home on Main Street from the Dodson sawmill on the Fox River.

Christian Dodson as a young man

Christian Dodson as a young man

When Harriett and Christian got married, Christian was then working as a contractor on the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and lived a few miles from Lockport. After a few days of a “honeymoon” in Chicago at the Old Saginash hotel, which was kept by their friends Mr. and Mrs. John Murphy, the newlyweds moved to a newly built log house along the canal.  Harriett was not ready to be a housewife at first though.  She stated in her memoir that “I was 19 years of age and thought myself quite a competent housekeeper, but when I came to rely wholly upon myself, without mother to ask questions of, I found myself deficient in many things.” Remember those were times when no one could pick up the phone and call their mother for help, let alone text her a question.

The next year, Mr. Dodson sold his contract and the couple moved to Chicago where they lived in a new house on Lake Street.  During the winter of 1838 their first children, twin sons Charles and Julius, were born and the family left the city, which was going through a great financial crisis. Christian had to sell their house at a loss and also sell-off many of the family’s belongings to satisfy a bank loan, the sad story of many at that time. They found a new home back near Christian’s original sawmill on the Fox River.  They had five more children while living on their Fox River farm and watching the community of Geneva grow around them. 

During their time near Geneva, Christian twice had a contract to remove Native Americans to reservations beyond the Mississippi River.  When the gold rush struck in 1849, Christian was one of the men from the area who joined a wagon train that had left St. Joseph, Michigan, heading for California.  The journey was not easy though, and he was one of the many men who was sickened by cholera along the way. Under the care of Dr. Israel Lord, a doctor from Warrenville, Christian recovered by the time the wagon train reached the west coast. After some time in California without striking it big, Christian traveled back east with Dr. Lord starting the journey by water through Panama to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi and over on the Illinois River to Peru, Illinois. From there he rode a stagecoach to Batavia. It is no doubt that he brought back many adventures to Harriet, who had bee raising the children along the Fox River.

Harriett and Christian lived out the rest of their lives in Geneva, dying in 1890 and 1891 respectively. They are remembered as one of the founding families of that community and are buried there.