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“…to take up my new duties at Washington…” Letters from Stephen Mather to George C. Purdy

Although much of Stephen Tyng Mather’s correspondence is now at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, we are fortunate to have a few letters. In 1987 Bertha McPherson received a note from Mrs. Charlotte Lang, daughter of George Purdy, in which she enclosed two letters from Stephen Mather to her father.


On January 15, 1915, in a typed note, Stephen Mather wrote to Purdy, “You may be interested to know that I am going to leave next Wednesday to take up my new duties at Washington. I will be very glad to see you there at any time…”


The longer handwritten letter was penned on May 12, 1919 as Stephen Mather, his wife, and Bertha, were returning from the Pacific aboard the S.S. Korea.


A few excerpts from that letter show Stephen Mather’s passion for the outdoors, his interest in environmentally-smart practices, and a keen power of observation…


“…The Volcano gave a very fine exhibit for us and was a wonderful sight at night when the molten lava was boiling up to the very lip of the crater and splashing right at our feet…”


“…I found a Sig named Eckhart who was a member of my own Chapter…and has perfected a paper mill…which was making a rough roofing paper of fair quality out of the bagasse or cane stalks…It was a very novel use of a material only used hereto for fuel…


“…We had a tough time getting accommodations back as the TKK [TOYO KISEN KAISHA LINE ORIENTAL S.S. CO] hadn’t protected us as promised and there are almost 50 people waiting for every berth…I wouldn’t recommend a trip in the Pacific just now unless you are prepared to wait indefinitely for return passage…”

“…We visited the island of Maui and spent a night at ten thousand feet at the edge of the great crater of Haleakala and I never saw as magnificent cloud effects as we got at Sunrise the next morning…”


George Purdy (1870-1944) was a fellow Sigma Chi having gone to Cornell. He accompanied Stephen Mather on some expeditions to the West including Yellowstone National Park in 1916. (See below). In 1989 the estate of Charlotte Purdy Lang established the George Carr Purdy Scholarship at Rockford College. Charlotte Lang died on 13 June 1989.



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