Johanna Mayer was born circa 1831 in Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany to Edward Mayer and Amalie Ettinger. She had five brothers: Bernhard (b. 1835), Henry (b. 1836), Maximilien Edward (b. 1840), Leopold Nathan (b. 1841), and Fritz (b. 1842). In the mid-1850s, Johanna married Emanuel Hirshfelder (b. 1824 in Stuttgart) and moved to Downieville, California. Emanuel Hirshfelder operated a dry goods and fancy goods store serving the miners of the California Gold Rush. The couple had three children, Fannie, Emma, and Edward. Johanna died in 1869 at the age of 32. She is buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Marysville, California.
Collection consists of an 1856 letter written by Johanna Mayer Hirschfelder from her Downieville home to her family in Europe describing in detail her journey by ship and train to California via the Isthmus of Panama. In the letter, Johanna comments on everything from the steamer's passengers and "Negro" staff to the weather and passing islands. She discusses her stop in Kingston, Jamaica (commenting on the large number of local "Israelites" and pointing out that she was shown a local synagogue). She also describes her journey across the Isthmus of Panama; her impressions of Mexico; and her initial impressions of entering through the Golden Gate (through a thick fog) and seeing San Francisco. She stayed in San Francisco for ten days before heading to Downieville. The folder also contains a transcription of the German letter, a translation of the letter into English and a Mayer family tree compiled by an unknown individual.