Indicator of coast-to-coast travel cost and wages for school teacher in San Diego back in 1865

One room schoolhouse. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Docent at the School House Museum in the Old Town San Diego State Historical Park explained the people of San Diego hired a professionally trained primary school teacher in 1865.

Mary Chase Walker had challenges finding a good position in Massachusetts, so she sailed to San Francisco. When the anticipated job there did not materialize, she took a teaching position in San Diego.

Her salary was a quite impressive $65 a month at a time when the average laborer was paid somewhere around $30 a month.

Her journey to California involved sailing from New England to Panama, taking a railroad ride across the isthmus, then finishing the trip by sailing north to San Francisco.

Fee for that trip (per the museum’s brochure) was $365.

So here are the prices:

  • $365 – travel costs from New England, across Panama, finally to San Francisco
  • $65 per month – pay of educated teacher in San Diego in 1865
  • about $30 per month – wages of “average” worker in the area at the time

This info gives us the cost of traveling to California expressed in months salary:

  • 5.6 months – wages for educated teacher to pay for trip
  • 12.2 months – wages for average worker to pay for the trip
  • Add in the lost wages for long journey.

Miss Walker’s employment in San Diego ended after one year. It seems, according to the brochure, she had a bit too much racial tolerance for the time. A month after she was let go she married the school board president.

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