The History Behind the Story

by Kathleen Denly

My upcoming release, Harmony on the Horizon, book three in my Chaparral Hearts series, was inspired by the true life story of San Diego’s first teacher to teach in their first schoolhouse.



The wooden structure was originally built in 1865 from the scavenged pieces of abandoned homes and businesses left in an area then known as Davis’s Folly (a location visited in my first novel, Waltz in the Wilderness). Today the long, red building is known as The Mason Street Schoolhouse, and has been reconstructed on its original site as part of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This structure is featured on the cover of Harmony on the Horizon.


It was during a field trip to this park that I first heard the tale of the Mary Chase Walker scandal. Mary Chase Walker was originally from Massachusetts and earned her teaching certification from the Framingham Normal School. The Civil War negatively impacted the ability of eastern school districts to pay their teachers. So when Mary learned of the higher wages being offered teachers in San Francisco, she set sail for California.


On arrival in San Francisco, Mary learned that there were more teachers applying for positions than there were positions available in that city. However, San Diego was in immediate need of a teacher and was offering an even higher salary. So, Mary set sail once more and endured a miserable bout of seasickness as she traveled down the California coast. Fortunately, there was a kind, mixed-race stewardess aboard who worked to comfort Mary as best she could and the two formed a close bond.

Mary arrived in San Diego on July 5, 1865. Unfortunately, San Diego is a very brown place in the summer (without today’s modern irrigation solutions) and at that time, it was still a very small town of only a few thousand people spread over thousands of acres. The culture and climate came as something of a shock to Mary who revealed a severe disappointment in her new home when writing her brief memoirs.

Too bad for Mary, things only got worse.

Not long after she began teaching, Mary discovered her stewardess friend was in town. So she invited her friend to dine with her at San Diego’s nicest hotel, the Franklin House. This did not go over well in a town dominated by Southern sympathizers on the heels of the Civil War. Half of the patrons abandoned the establishment on the women’s arrival. Worse, the parents of the town were so incensed that many of them refused to send their children to school so long as Mary continued as teacher.

An emergency meeting of the board was called to determine Mary’s fate as teacher. The records of that meeting were lost in a later fire, so no one currently knows what decision was made at that time. What we do know through other sources is that one member supported keeping the teacher, another supported firing her, and the third was a man named Ephraim Morse. We also know that one month later, Mary was no longer teaching at the schoolhouse, but had taken a position as a tutor for a local family. We also know that shortly thereafter, Ephraim Morse courted and subsequently married Mary.

These are the historical facts, the framework, upon which I built my novel, Harmony on the Horizon. Being a lover of adventure, however, I used my artistic license to throw in the secondary setting of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, two more main characters, and loads of trouble.


This video featuring a quote from the first scene in Harmony on the Horizon gives a hint at some of the trouble I’m referring to:


Preorder your copy HERE. 


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Harmony on the Horizon releases January 4, 2022. To celebrate, I’m offering this giveaway bundle to one winner*:

  • 1 Tote Bag – Harmony on the Horizon
  • 1 Aromatherapy Pendant – with dried  Lavender inside + scent ball
  • 1 Traveler’s Junk Journal – Vintage Reporter Style
  • 1 Lavender Sachet
  • 1 ebook copy of either Waltz in the Wilderness or Sing in the Sunlight – readers’ choice
  • 1 Chaparral Hearts Pen
  • 1 SITS Bookmark
  • 1 HOTH Sticker


To enter, leave a comment below letting me know what you think happened during that 1865 board meeting.


*Must have a U.S. Mailing address to win. Void where prohibited.


Thank you so much for spending time with me today.

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59 thoughts on “The History Behind the Story”

  1. They probably voted to fire her, but Ephraim was probably in need of a wife and offered to marry her to keep her from becoming homeless.

    I enjoyed the book trailer.


  2. I thin they probably voted to release her from their employment, but Ephraim voted that way so she would be in need of a job and home, and thus open to marrying him.

  3. I think they voted to keep her, but the debate was so derisive and the situation so volatile that she didn’t want to stay there.

  4. I think at first there was a lot of gossip about Mary before she was voted out. But I think Ephraim had already fallen for her with her and gave her a better life by making her his wife to the dismay of everyone in town.

  5. My theory is that she was fired and Ephraim took her under his wing and offered her a job tutoring the children and eventually marrying her not so much for love but for stability in the household for the children.

  6. Weren’t teachers back then supposed to be unmarried? I think Ephraim voted to fire her because he was smitten with her and wanted to marry her.

    • While that is a very common romance novel trope and was true in some cities, it wasn’t true everywhere. In my research I couldn’t find any mention of such a rule in San Diego at that time.

  7. I think they voted to fire her, and that Ephraim was already in love with her. He probably told her beforehand that he would vote that way and why. I’m sure they had the rule other schools did, that the female teachers had to remain single.

  8. Welcome, Kathleen. Loved you post. Poor Mary. I’m sure if they allowed her to be at that school board meeting, Mary got up and delivered a scathing rebuke. I certainly would’ve. Politics had no place in the school back then and still doesn’t today. But she came out all right. Ephraim has the kindest face I’ve ever seen. Such a strong man. Enjoy your visit. Wishing you tons of success.

  9. I think Ephraim probably wanted to keep her for a teacher, but the towns people was putting a lot of pressure on him and the others to release her. I think he offered her marriage because he liked her and felt bad about her losing her job.

  10. I think Ephraim voted to keep her teaching, but those that wanted her to leave made her life unbearable so she left teaching for tutoring. That also opened the way for Ephraim to marry her as they probably could not have a relationship when she was teaching.

  11. I think Mary stood up for herself , I think they voted to let her go and Mary made it easy on them and she herself quit. Ephraim was happy because he loved her and he was able to marry her. Your book sounds very intriguing and I love your book cover, I especially love her look on her face , it tells me that in the end she was the one that prevailed, and she had the last word. Thank you for the chance. Have a great weekend and stay safe.

  12. I think the vote was 2-1 in favor of keeping her, but she quit because she didn’t want to work for a town that would treat someone dear to her so poorly. When she took the job tutoring Ephraim’s children there was a scandal and her reputation was compromised, so he offered to marry her to protect her. She had already fallen in love with his children, so it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with him, too.

  13. I imagined a scene of people yelling, demanding her firing, others yelling back defending her. It lasted over one hour. One person threw an eraser across the room. She later was a tutor to children related to the man she married.

  14. We were in San Diego for a conference several years ago and spent a couple days in Old Town. We did visit the school house along with everything else.

    At the board meeting, I think maybe Mr. Morse became upset with the comments of parents and the board member who voted to fire her. He made a forceful speech against their bigoted attitude and the need to work to heal the wounds to the country caused by the war. He stayed on the board, but the pressure from the board member who wanted to fire her and many parents forced her to quit. A family who was upset with the way she was treated and the attitudes of the others pulled their children out of school and hired her to be their tutor.

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