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“Dear Father…”Excerpts of letters from Stephen Mather to Joseph Wakeman Mather

In a large, tabbed folder in the Mather Homestead attic is a collection of letters received by Joseph Wakeman Mather in the years from 1889 to 1898. Among the letters are 29 from Stephen Mather to his father.


The letters range from chatty to confidential and even to confrontational in regard to a brief business misunderstanding between the two men. Some letters reflect conditions not dissimilar to the present, from an incident of anti-Semitism to a health quarantine. We learn of rampant enthusiasm in San Francisco for the Spanish-American War and why the husband of a maternal cousin was sentenced to prison in Brooklyn. Some excerpts…


From an undated letter: Incident of Anti-Semitism

“…I had rather startling news from Chicago today. The brother of our mill foreman and who worked for us for a few months until we had to discharge him kicked a Jewish rabbi to death and they say his brother our foreman is implicated. Our man has always been very straight and a good workman but his brother never amounted to much.”


From an Oct. 21, 1893 letter: Savannah Cholera Quarantine

“…The Southern railroads move more leisurely than the ones we are accustomed to. Just at the last moment Thursday evening I discovered that no one could enter Savannah without a health certificate so strict are they in their quarantine. I got one from one of Asheville’s local physicians…


From an Oct. 24, 1894 letter: A Brief Business Disagreement

”…You were speaking of the inadequacy of your salary as received from Mr. Smith and I said if you wanted it, I would turn the assay office contract over to you, as that would add something to your income. You told me that you did not want it and I am sure that whoever heard me make the offer must have heard your answer too…”


From a May 1, 1898 letter: The Spanish-American War

…”I suppose you find it the same way in Darien that we do here, everybody talking war. It is bound to unsettle business to a greater or lesser extent and we are all wishing out here that it may be short, sharp, and decisive. I have not enlisted yet as there seem to be plenty eager to go. I suppose Uncle Sam has a call on me for I had three years of military training at Berkeley under a U.S. officer. There is a great deal of enthusiasm here all the streets being decorated with flags and nearly everyone wearing a miniature flag or the colors…”


From the same May 1, 1898 letter: The Jailing of Fred Milne

“…I think mother is doing fairly well. I believe her health is much better and she is now able to go out and visit friends quite a good deal. She felt very keenly the trouble that had been made for Aunt Lizzie through Jessie’s husband, Fred Milne, having gone to prison in Brooklyn on account of auditing payrolls which were fraudulent. I think that the men who are really responsible for this state of affairs in Brooklyn will be brought to justice.”


From an Aug 7, 1898 letter: Ready to Compete with Pacific Coast Borax

“…The trouble with Smith [Owner of Pacific Coast Borax] is he doesn’t think anyone else but himself has any right in the borax business…Smith will find he is making a mistake by taking this course as other developments are bound to come soon... Of course do not mention what I am writing to any one…”


From a Sept. 2, 1898 letter: Stephen’s Mother’s Declining Health

”…Mother is improving. I got her down stairs yesterday for the first time…She had two severe hemorrhages of the stomach similar to the ones she had in Scotland… She is practically living on ice cream but the doctor hopes soon that she will be able to take solids as her blood is very much impoverished. She is going to try to leave here Sept. 15.” [Bertha Walker Mather died August 19, 1899]


From a Dec 4, 1898 letter: The Unfortunate Mrs. Marble

”…I noticed a telegram in Friday’s paper that Mrs. Marble, Blaine’s Sister-in-law had been killed at San Leandro by a run away accident, she having been struck by the low hanging bough of a tree under which the horse ran…”


Image below: Joseph Wakeman Mather





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