Joseph Burwell McChesney

A Brief Biography


Joseph Burwell McChesney, Principal of the Oakland High School, was born in Brunswick, Rensselaer county, New York, October 12, 1832, a son of Francis and Mary (Betts) McChesney, both natives of New York State. His maternal grandparents were also natives of that State, and of English ancestry, and were aged between seventy and eighty at death; both were Quakers. The grandfather was a farmer by occupation and prominent in the Society of Friends. The paternal grandfather, Joseph McChesney, was a native of the State of New York and of Scotch descent; his wife, a native of Dutchess county, that State, and of German descent, lived to the age of eighty years. Mr. McChesney, our subject, has therefore descended from a long-lived family, mainly of the agricultural class, sober, industrious and thrifty. His father died at the age of seventy-five, in 1882, and his mother is still living, in Syracuse, New York; she was born in Brunswick, New York, in February, 1807.

Mr. McChesney was reared to farm life. At the age of eighteen he entered an academey at Cambridge, Washington county, New York, and pursued his studies there a year; then he was two years in school at West Poultney, Vermont; then he entered Union College at Schenectady, New York, where he was graduated in 1857. He was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society for distinguished attainments in general studies. In February, 1858, he left New York for California, coming by way of the Isthmus route and arriving in San Francisco in March.

He was married near Forbestown, Yuba county, to Sarah S. Jewett, who was born in 1834, a native of Vermont and a daughter of George D. Jewett, at this time a miner in Yuba county, and also a farmer. His wife was by birth Carinda Taggart and a native of New York, and her husband of Vermont. He lived to the age of seventy-four years and she to about seventy.

Soon after marriage Mr. McChesney taught a district school in Forbestown during the summer, and the ensuing winter at Oroville. In 1859 he was nominated by the Republicans for the Legislature, but was defeated, which he does not regret, as his success might have diverted his attention from what seems to have been his true vocation, teaching. From 1862 to 1867 he was principal of the high school at Nevada City. Then he was invited to go to Oakland and organize and grade the schools of the city, while having the position of principal of the first grammar school, which he organized in 1867. In 1869 he organized the high school, and was appointed its principal, which position he still holds. For one term he was president of the California State Teachers' Association, in 1882, and generally he has held a prominent position among the educators of the State. Since 1888 he has been editor of the official paper, the "Pacific Educational Journal". He has also been a member of the Berkeley Club, a literary association of the highest standing.

His children are: Clara Taggart McChesney, now an artist of New York city; Mary Alice at home; George Jewett, a student in the high school, and of the class of '91. From Eastern papers we learn that Miss Clara T. McChesney is a constant contributor to the art exhibitions at Boston, Pittsburg, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Indianapolis. An exquisite little water color by her, entitled "Violets," first attracted attention to her unusual ability some two years ago; and last spring a pastel, "A Cabbage Field by Moonlight," and "An Old Lady Knitting" were accorded flattering criticisms. A believer in no particular method, and a using whatever medium offers the clearest expression of her ideas, she inclines to the Dutch school more than any other. She has the frank, responsive manners of most earnest and gifted women. She is medium-sized, with a fine intellectual brow and wonderfully abundant reddish gold hair, curling softly above clear, kind eyes that are eloquent of her fine nature.

Mary Alice, the second daughter, was for two years a student at the State University in Berkeley. She left that institution to devote herself to music.

Mr. McChesney has been president of the Equity Building and Loan Association of Oakland for two years, and for ten years of the Home Security Building and Loan Association; for about ten years he was a member of the Oakland Library Association, and after its transfer to the city was elected by the people a Trustee of the Oakland Free Library. In all the years of his connection with the schools of Oakland he has always been deeply interested in everything calculated to promote th educational interests of the city, and he is universally regarded as the "right man in the right place" as principal of the high school.

Oakland Public Library Source:

"The Bay of San Francisco. The Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its Suburban Cities. A History" Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1892, Vol.II, p. 198