At the age of six, Stephen’s mother began to experience issues with her health. Although she was still quite young, she was forced to leave her family and enter a sanatorium, first in California, then east where she permanently lived. Joseph senior remained in San Francisco to attend to his business and care for the boys. His business success allowed the boys to attend private school but while in college, Stephen earned his way by selling books during the summer. Stephen faithfully communicated with his mother until after he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, class of 1887. Without a job and like many twenty year-old graduates, Stephen didn’t have a firm idea as to a career path. He told his mother he may seek a living by entering a mercantile house, but for the time being, he wanted to spend time with her in New York.
Stephen’s father, Joseph, and younger brother, Jossie, remained in San Francisco until the following year. Young nineteen year-old Jossie had finished high school and was working for an insurance company when he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. Within a week, he died. Needless to say, his father was devastated. Nothing now remained for Joseph in California. He settled his affairs and at the age of sixty-eight, moved east as quickly as he was able. As government regulations began to restrict the opium trade, Joseph directed a lot of his investment capital, which he liked to refer to as speculative “adventures,” into the borax industry. He was greatly invested into Pacific Coast Borax and used his connections with it’s owner, Francis M. Smith, to open an office representing the company in New York City.
Arriving in New York a year earlier than his father, Stephen Mather began work as a reporter for the New York Sun and remained there for approximately six years. This experience not only provided him foundational relationships in his career, it also helped form and refine the natural abilities that served him so well for the rest of his life. Mather’s experience with the Sun molded him into someone with a keen awareness of the American mindset. He possessed a gift in creating a story of interest and, if alive today, he may have been referred to as a marketing genius. This was Mather’s gift: He was able to transform his visions into ideas that motivated others to action.
By 1893 Joseph W. Mather, Stephen’s father, had been working as the administrator for Pacific Coast Borax’s operation in New York City for approximately five years. Pacific Coast Borax, owned by Francis Marion Smith, aka the “Borax King” or “Borax Smith,” was the world’s largest borax mining operation of the day. At the same time, Stephen began courting a woman by the name of Jane Thacker Floy but her family held a less than favorable view of Stephen’s occupation as a reporter for the Sun. Although content working as a reporter, he became more welcoming to a change in his career path. With his father’s influence, Stephen accepted a position as the advertising manager for Pacific Coast Borax and later that same year married Miss Floy.