The subject of this post is a real-life disaster that may be similar to whenever the big one does decide to hit Seattle. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. As a result of the (approximately) 7.8 magnitude earthquake: 3,000 people were killed; over 220,000 people became homeless; 80% of the city was destroyed and the cost to restore was approximately 10 billion dollars (estimate of the actual cost in 2015 dollars). In spite of the tragedy, the aftermath of that event is uplifting: people (citizens, companies, governments) came together to care for the wounded and homeless and quickly rebuild the city. In nine short years, San Francisco celebrated its complete recovery at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in 1915.
This blog explores the earthquake and its recovery through the lens of the experience of my great-grandfather's sister, Ada Jones, who survived the disaster and was a part of the city's recovery.
|Ada Plymale Jones, c. 1909|
Ada Plymale Jones was born and raised in southern Oregon, one of the oldest siblings of my great-grandfather Ben Plymale. She married at 19 and had a happy, but brief, married life. She moved with her husband to the Bay Area of California in 1896. Sadly, tragedies struck her family. Both of her children died in childhood and her husband died suddenly in 1900, at the age of 35. Ada was left in a difficult situation. At 34, her entire family was dead and she had nothing to do but go back to work and support herself. Although she had worked for newspapers in her youth, she decided to go into a field that was popular with women: stenography.
At the time of the 1906 earthquake, Ada was living by herself in an apartment in nearby Oakland, California. She was working as a stenographer for the Fulton Iron Works in their office in downtown San Francisco. Ada was at work in San Francisco at the time the earthquake hit during the morning of April 18, 1906.
|3rd and Howard in San Francisco. This was just two blocks |
from Ada's office - Fulton Iron Works - where she was at the
time of the quake and which was also destroyed in the disaster
Courtesy California Historical Society
|a scene from one of the refugee camps at the Presidio, where |
Ada lived for three weeks after the earthquake
Courtesy California Historical Society
Six days after the disaster, Ada was finally able to notify her family in Oregon that she was alive and safe. Three weeks later, she was eventually able to evacuate out of the city and went to Medford, Oregon to stay with her sister. Others were not so lucky, especially if they did not have relatives they could stay with or money they could access (most banks were not able to disperse money because their funds were still locked in fire-proof vaults that had to completely cool before opening). Somewhere between 220,000 and 300,000 people were made homeless as a result of the tragedy and two years later, many refugees were still living in camps in the city. A majority of the homeless population though evacuated out of the city and fled as refugees to other cities (most to San Jose and Los Angeles) where they were supported in camps similar to those in San Francisco.
In spite of the magnitude of destruction, the city was relatively efficient at supporting the refugees and rebuilding the city. At the time, many government officials downplayed the extent of the disaster - with the intent of appealing to potential investors, which seems to have been successful. Many insurance companies went bankrupt as a result of payouts from the disaster (mostly due to fire claims, earthquake damage was - and still is - not covered by most insurance policies). The disaster also received worldwide attention and the effort was also aided by relief support from around the world - and received funds from the federal US government, from foreign governments and from private companies and individuals.
|Short newspaper article about Ada in the |
Medford Mail Tribune, May 18, 1906