Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Above All, Does It Pay? The Plaths' Financial World

Otto Plath died in 1940. Aurelia Plath said he left his family a $5,000 life-insurance policy. In 2021, the equivalent of that payout would be $93,000.


The cost of a typical funeral in the US in 1940 was about $800; $650 of that was for the casket. Burial is a separate expense; Aurelia paid $375 for Otto's burial, about $7,000 today. A typical funeral/burial package in 2021 costs $12,000.


Fee for leg-amputation surgery in 1940 is unknown; in 2021, it’s $20,000 to $60,000. A prosthesis is a separate expense.


Aurelia Plath’s Money:


Aurelia did substitute teaching at $25/week in 1941, equivalent to $420/week in 2021. At that rate a 40-week school year would pay Aurelia our equivalent of $16,880/year. The average US public-school teacher in 1940, working 40 weeks, made $1,435/year, or about $36/week.


Aurelia in 1942 became a full-time instructor at Boston University at $1,800/year, the equivalent of $30,250/year today. (Letters Home, 29) This put their household of five below today’s poverty level ($31,000). Aurelia taught summer school and tutored to earn more, and there were Grampy’s earnings, amount unknown.


A survey of 158 US colleges and universities for 1947-48, the year Aurelia was promoted to assistant professor, showed the median salary of assistant professors to be $3,000/year. In 2021 dollars that’s a bit over $36,000.


Aurelia in 1953 wrote Olive Higgins Prouty she earned $3,900/year. The 2021 equivalent is $38,000.


Associate Professors in 1968-69, shortly before Aurelia retired with that title, made a national median salary of $12,151/year; $93,300 in 2021 dollars. But counting only faculty salaries in non-public colleges such as Boston University, the median salary sank to $7,662, or, in 2021 terms, $59,000/year. As a female, Aurelia would likely have been paid about 70 percent of whatever her male colleagues made.


A publisher’s $5,000 advance payment in 1975, such as Aurelia got for Letters Home, would equal $25,000 today.


Sylvia Plath’s Money


In 1947 if Sylvia earned $25, that would be like $302 today.


The $850 Olive Higgins Prouty scholarship given Sylvia in 1950 would equal $9,400 today. (SP to ASP, 31 October 1950)


A “classic pair of silver closed pumps” priced at $12.95 in 1953 would cost $126 today. (SP to ASP, 3 March 1953)


In a May 21, 1955, letter to her mother, Sylvia summed up her past year’s earnings from writing: $470, which would look like $4,585 in 2021.


Smith College paid Sylvia $4,200 to teach Freshman English for nine months. The equivalent today would be $39,640 (SP to ASP, 12 March 1957). The median pay for instructors in 1957 was $4,562, equivalent today to $40,300. Women’s colleges were known for paying lower salaries all across the board.


Sylvia and her friend Anne Sexton’s 70-cent cafeteria meal would be $7 in 2021.


What was, in 1959, a $15 eagle tattoo would cost $135 today.


In 1960, the US median monthly apartment rental was $71; in Massachusetts, $74. Source.


Sylvia’s $100 bonus for signing a New Yorker contract would equal $874 today. (SP to ASP, 1 March 1961)


1000 British pounds in 1962 would today equal $22,500 US. (SP to ASP, 9 October 1962)


The $700 check Sylvia received from her Aunt Dot was the equivalent of $6,000 in 2021 money. (SP to ASP, 29 November 1962)


The book Lord Byron’s Wife, in 1962 priced at $6.50, would be priced at $56 today. (SP to ASP, 29 November 1962)


The equivalencies were calculated with the Inflation Calculator. Median salaries for college and university faculty are from the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbooks for 1949, 1951, 1959, 1970-71, accessed through “Prices and Wages by Decade,” Federal poverty guideline information here. There were no US federal poverty guidelines until 1963.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Otto Plath Was Disowned Because . . .

A personal insight: Aurelia Plath's Letters Home introduction tells us that Otto Plath's Lutheran grandparents financed his college education on the condition that he become a minister. When Otto told them he could not as a matter of conscience continue at the seminary, his grandparents disowned him and struck his name from the family bible.

That seems exceptionally harsh, but I'm from Wisconsin, in the general area of Milwaukee, 50 miles from Watertown, where Otto lived and attended Northwestern College. Wisconsin was and still is full of Lutherans of German descent, and the Wisconsin Synod is so extremely strict that it will not cooperate with other Lutheran synods on matters of doctrine.

A folk belief among these Lutherans was that if a boy became a minister, God granted his parents automatic tickets to heaven. The first time I met the Lutheran parents of a boy I was dating in the 1970s, they told me this. My date's younger brother was attending Northwestern College, preparing for the ministry; the parents spoke of him with pride. My date was majoring in pre-medical studies and his parents were soooo disappointed that he was not studying to become a minister, and told him so repeatedly. In his junior year of college they were still pestering him to become a minister. They threatened not to strike his name from the family bible but to cut off funds.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Errors of Fact in Aurelia's "Letters Home" Introduction

-Aurelia Frances Schober (later Plath) was born and lived her "early childhood" not in Winthrop, Massachusetts, but the working-class neighborhood of Boston called Jamaica Plain. Irish families were settled in Jamaica Plan when Aurelia was born in 1906; Italians began congregating there in 1910. Her family did not move to seaside Winthrop until 1918, when Aurelia would have been 11 or 12, well past early childhood. 

-It was at the close of Aurelia Schober's sophomore year, 1926, when a German-speaking, highly cultured guest professor at MIT hired her as his secretary. Letters Home says this happened "at the close of my junior year (1927)," but his diaries first mention "Miss A. Schober" in August 1926. He was 43, she 20. Aurelia gives broad hints but does not actually name Dr. Karl Terzaghi, or admit that the pair fell in love and dated for two years. Aurelia knew well, from her own notes, that they met in 1926. But placing their first meeting in 1927 makes Aurelia 21 years old instead of 20, shielding Karl, 50 years after the fact, from any jeers about cradle-robbing, and perhaps shielding herself from any side-eye about her naivete

-Otto Plath was born in April 1885 in the "country town of Grabow" in Prussia, but was still an infant when his parents moved 150 miles northwest to Budzyn, where Otto actually "grew up." Otto's five younger siblings were all born in Budzyn, beginning with Paul in December 1886. When Otto arrived in the U.S. he listed his last residence as Budzyn. (8)

-Otto Plath was 15 years old, not 16, when he arrived in the United States on September 9, 1900, according to the ship's manifest. 

-"[w]hen his father, years after his son's arrival here, came to the United States": Correctly, Otto's father Theodor Plath arrived in the U.S. less than a year after Otto did, in March 1901.

-Otto "spoke English without a trace of foreign accent" - those who had met him, interviewed in the 1970s by Harriet Rosenstein, said Otto spoke English with a German accent. (9)

-Frieda Plath Heinrichs, Otto's youngest sister, did not die in 1966 but in 1970. She and her husband's Walter's names appear together in California voter registration rolls until 1968, when Frieda's becomes the only name listed. Walter died May 26, 1967.

-A cost accountant figures out how much money a firm is really spending to put out its product. Aurelia's father Francis Schober was never a "cost accountant" for Boston's Dorothy Muriel bakery company. Rather, in the 1930s the former hotel headwaiter and maitre d' was listed as "manager" of dining rooms; in 1938 it's specifically a Dorothy Muriel bakery-tearoom on Tremont Street, one of a chain of about 50 local Dorothy Muriels. The Boston city directories for the 1940s list a Herman F. Schober, who was a relative, employed as a "cost accountant" for Measurement Engineering and the American Meter Company. Herman F. Schober was born in Boston in 1893, and between 1926 and 1940 the city directory gave his occupation as "foreman." 

Maybe Francis Schober counted the day's proceeds at his own Dorothy Muriel location, but he was never a "cost accountant" for Dorothy Muriel, which had its factory and offices in Allston. (28)

Take Note

-Aurelia Plath is careful to say her two siblings grew up in a matriarchy, but that she as the eldest was the only one of Schobers' children brought up in the European (patriarchal authoritarian) style. The Introduction says: "[m]y father made the important decisions during my childhood and early girlhood" (3) and Aurelia says that it did not occur to her, in her late teens, to argue when her father decreed she would attend either secretarial college or no college.

The Letters Home edition referred to is a hardbacked first edition, 1975.