The Dollar Then and Now

May 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

inflationIn response to last week’s post (Click here if you missed it.), my friend Marge Dickinson noted that the $334 earned for the King’s Daughters Home by Susan and her mother is equivalent to over $7,000 today.  Marge’s source was the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Statistics consumer price index inflation calculator.  It occurred to me that using that tool to calculate the differences between consumer buying power of significant dollar amounts in Susan’s life with today’s dollars may prove enlightening.

The government inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, so I cannot accurately transpose the value of Susan’s father’s estate which Susan inherited in 1901 or the estimated architectural fee she paid Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902-04 to today’s dollars.  I can, however, put the end of Susan’s life in modern perspective through this method.

In Chapter 18 of Susan Lawrence, The Enigma in the Wright House I quote excerpts from a letter Susan wrote to her cousin in 1931.  Susan was refusing to give her cousin a small loan because she was running out of money.  According to the letter, the long illness of her cousin Flora who lived with Susan cost her $25,000 ($382,452 today).  She further notes that she lost $52,000 ($795,500 today) in rents the preceding five years, and had $3,000 ($45,894 today) in interest and $5,700 ($88,200 today) in taxes due within the next three months.

Susan’s fiscal and physical conditions continued to decline.  In 1942 she was declared incompetent and committed to a room in St. John’s Hospital. A year later, in 1943, her personal property was estimated at $57,386.11 ($771,332.34 today), and her real estate property was valued at $177,565.00 ($2,386,668.61 today).   To pay off her debts and to generate money to support her in the hospital, her real estate was sold, and her personal property was auctioned off.

Finally, in Chapter 19, I describe her fiscal condition at the end of her life in 1946:

Her final estate included a seal fur coat with a mink collar, a table radio, an electric fan, a small Christmas tree,…$25,000 [$300,000 today] in U.S. Treasury bonds, and $35,000 [$417,000 today] in U.S. Savings bonds…After expenses, each of eight surviving first cousins inherited $6,154.25 [$73,387.38 today].

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