Mather family roots in America trace back to Richard Mather, a clergyman during the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. Of the five sons born to Richard Mather, only one resisted the call to serve in the pulpit. This was Timothy. He elected to become a farmer and by chance, fathered the Mather clan’s only male offspring, thus continuing the family name. The subsequent generations, most notably the Reverend Dr. Moses Mather and his son, Deacon Joseph Mather, settled into what was to become the Mather Homestead in Darien, Connecticut, owned to this day by the Mather family. Of the forty-five grandchildren born to Deacon Joseph, one was Stephen’s father, Joseph Wakeman Mather, born in 1820.
Joseph W. Mather, was a remarkably resilient man with deep convictions and diverse talents. Aside from Steven, his life bore the pain and loss of nearly everyone he loved. Married at the age of thirty-six, his wife, Maria Augusta Mahan, died only two and one-half years later. The only child of the marriage, a daughter named Ella Marie, contracted scarlet fever and died before reaching her fourth birthday.
Although Joseph was a career educator, after the death of his wife and in middle age, he redirected his energy and became a businessman. He worked for a New York City firm, Alsop and Company, for approximately three years and displaying remarkable aptitude but earned only $125 per month as a sales supervisor. When the opportunity arose in 1864 to double his earnings as a bookkeeper in San Francisco, he took it. Now forty-four years-old and engaged to Bertha Jemima Walker, a twenty year-old whose family shared common roots in St. George’s Episcopal Church, Joseph was ready for a new start. He and his young bride moved to San Francisco soon after the wedding and together they discovered an entirely new world.
Everything seemed different, in an odd sort of way, but Joseph and his bride adjusted and prospered in the process. He referred to himself as a commission merchant in minerals and chemicals, speculating in such products as borax and opium. In 1886, opium was not considered an illegal substance and was frequently prescribed for medicinal purposes. As the use of opium in America continued to escalate, thousands of dollars began to pour through Joseph’s bank account. After only two and one-half years he was able to write back east and proclaim, “Last year was the most prosperous of my life.” But if there was any degree of boasting to this comment, it centered around his excitement to be able to give most of his profits away to charity.
Another item of good news reported back east was the announcement of a new child that was due before the summer was over. Born on perhaps a day indicative of his life, Stephen Tyng Mather was introduced to the world on July 4, 1867. Unable to name him, he was simply referred to as “the boy” for nearly the first year of his life. It was not until impatient relatives proposed naming him after the rector of St. George’s, Stephen Tyng, did a name finally stick. Two years later another boy was born into the family, Joseph Wakeman Mather, Jr. or “Jossie” as he came to be known.