As the rush to the California gold fields began to slow in the late 1850's, several of the new mining communities began to seek a greater sense of social stability, and its transplanted residents began to duplicate some of the social institutions they had known in the east. By 1858, settlers in recently formed Merced County had erected a church and school on the Harold Ranch, and not long thereafter a Floridian woman, M. E. Mann, was convinced to emigrate to serve as teacher. Mrs. Mann, apparently a widow, was known to the county's first Judge, J. Fitzhugh, through her brother-in-law William Mann, an employee on the ranch of William McCreary.
In June, 1859, Mrs. Mann and her young daughter, Amanda, left for California by way of the Isthmus of Panama, arriving by stage at McCreary's ranch on the Chowchilla River on July 5th. She was soon settled into Judge Fitzhugh's place on the Merced River, upstream of Snelling's Ranch, and by the beginning of the new school year she began to accept her first students. Over the course of the next year and a half, Mrs. Mann taught from eight to ten children, earning between $55 and $60 per month plus board for herself and her daughter. While the pay was excellent, and while she enjoyed the life of a teacher more than that of a housekeeper, Mrs. Mann was taken aback by the rough-hewn social life in California and she was unsure of what to make of the nearly all-male society. To her eyes, California men seemed to lavish attention on the few single women to be found and she was surprised to find that men performed all of the chores that in the east were reserved for women. Yet at the same time Mrs. Mann was repelled by the filth and the lack of refinement and she was struck by the attentions paid to very young girls, whom she was told often marry at age 12 or 13. Most of all, she worried about what would become of her daughter, Amanda. While Amanda did not like California life at first, having few playmates her own age (about 10), she quickly grew to become "a great rough country girl, having learned nothing in California, but has forgotten what she learned at home" (1860 August 28). Mrs. Mann continued to long for life in the east and wished that her California stay could be brief, even she feared that her brother had settled there for life. "Every thing seems unreal, visionery," she wrote. "I scarcely see or hear anything around me. I do not realize that I am living at all." (1860 August 28)
Mrs. Mann nevertheless stayed in California, marrying R. J. Strother of Princeton, Cal., on December 28th, 1863. At about this time she was teaching at Princeton, in Mariposa County, with Amanda serving as her assistant.