J. B. McChesney
from The Beginnings of Oakland by Peter T. Conmy. Courtesy Oakland History Room
Joseph Burwell ("J. B.") McChesney (October 12, 1832–February 25, 1912) was the principal of the Irving School c.1876–1887 and also the first principal and organizer of Oakland High School from its beginning in 1869 until 1901. He was president of the Oakland Library Association c.1876. 1

Family and Career

from SF Call, 1899 6J. B. was born in 1832 in Brunswick, New York, to Francis McChesney and Mary A. Betts (McChesney). After graduating from Union College in Schenectady, New York, McChesney came to California via the isthmus of Panama in 1858. Later that year he met and married Sarah Susan Jewett (McChesney) (June 19, 1835-May 26, 1926), the daughter of a miner in Forbestown. J. B. and Sarah had three children: Clara Taggart McChesney, Mary Alice McChesney and Dr. George Jewett McChesney. Clara became a well-known artist in New York and Paris, and died while in England. George was an orthopedic surgeon, served in the medical corps in WWI, and was a tennis player of some note. Sarah McChesney was a member of the Ebell Society.

After getting married, J. B. McChesney taught in Forbestown, Oroville, and Grass Valley. In 1859, he was nominated by the Republicans for the state legislature, but defeated, "which he does not regret as his success might diverted his attention from what seems have been his true vocation, teaching." 4 He served as principal of the school in Nevada City from 1862 to 1867. He then came to Oakland in 1867 and became a teacher and principal of the Lafayette School.

McChesney was one of the organizers of Oakland High School, which started as a single class at Lafayette School. He was principal of Oakland High School for 32 years, from its beginning in 1869 until 1901. 5

McChesney served as president of the Equity Building and Loan Association of Oakland for two years, and of the Home Security Building and Loan Association.

J. B. was an investor and director of the Educational Publishing Company, which was created to publish The Pacific Journal of Education. 7

In 1902, he temporarily worked as a statistician for the customs house in San Francisco, tracking imports from Puerto Rico and the Philippines for tariff purposes. 8

Death and Burial

CC SA-BY Our OaklandAfter retiring, McChesney moved to Mill Valley then to San Francisco. He died at his home in San Francisco on February 25, 1912. The Oakland city council ordered flags flown at half mast. J. B. and Sarah are buried in Plot 13 in Mountain View Cemetery. The rest of the family and Sarah's parents are buried there, too. Listed on the marker are:

name birth death relationship
Joseph B. McChesney 1832 1912 -
Sarah Jewett McChesney 1835 1926 -
Clara McChesney 1861 1928 daughter
(Mary) Alice McChesney 1867 1932 daughter
Katherine McChesney 1875 1942 wife of George
George McChesney 1875 1960 son
George D. Jewett - May, 1883 Sarah's father
Clarinda Jewett - Jan., 1879 Sarah's mother

Links and References

  1. Death Summons Aged Educator Oakland Tribune February 26, 1912
  2. Joseph Burwell McChesney on FindAGrave.com
  3. Joseph McChesney on Lives of the Dead
  4. The Bay of San Francisco: The Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and Its Suburban Cities
  5. Oakland High School Founder Los Angeles Herald June 4, 1901
  6. Honors for Miss Clara T. McChesney San Francisco Call December 23, 1899
  7. Incorporations Daily Alta California December 28, 1886
  8. Statistician in the Custom-House San Francisco Call May 10, 1902