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Letter written by Elsie Cross to Ruth (page 1 of 4)

A letter written by a twelve-year old girl to her friend, giving a firsthand account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The letter (4 pages), dated May 17 and 18, describes the earthquake and her family's subsequent removal from their home in San Francisco's Western Addition to the Sunset district, where they stayed for several days to avoid the fire.
Cross, Elsie H.
1906 May 17 and 18

Letter written by Elsie Cross to Ruth, 1906; Elsie H. Cross letters, MS-3469; California Historical Society.

This primary source is a letter written by a 12-year-old girl named Elsie Cross. She wrote this letter to her family right after the huge earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906. She described many of the problems in the city. Have you ever sent a letter to your family? What sorts of things do you tell them? What do you think Elsie Cross hoped her family would think after they read this letter?

Written by 12-year-old Elsie Cross, this letter documents how a child witnessed the immediate aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The earthquake, and the fire that followed it, caused major damage to the city. Many residents were homeless. Communication with loved ones was limited during this time. This letter reveals how family members attempted to stay in touch with one another, and it suggests the reasons that people had to move as a result of the disaster. Students may make connections between this document and whether Cross moved for push or pull factors, potentially noting that environmental factors served as push factors.

[page 1]

A.W. A. ?

Oakland, May 11, 1906

Dear Ruth,

As you will see by the heading I am no longer in Frisco. I received your parcel the week after that “gentle zepher” struck us. Ahem! Ahem!!! Wednesday morning I was awakened by a slight shaking. Now as earthquakes are usually gentle and mild I waited for it to pass away. Instead of that it began to wrench & by that time I was in my door way. (That being considered the safest place). Then it began to go just up & down as a cat shakes a rat and I (thinking the world was coming to an end) said a prayer & waited for results. I saw my father in the front room try to get to my mother and also saw him thrown twice across the floor. I could see my mother & brother standing in their doorway. My brother could not stand so my mother had to hold him. And, Ruth, I laughed when it knocked our beautiful Regina down and it played “Whistling Rufus” all through the earthquake. Our chimney went through to the basement, my [ ] was thrown on my table and the drawers & their contents thrown on the floor. Things fell right & left, brick-a-brack flew around, and [ ] danced a jig. As soon as it was over (& it only lasted (? ) 48 seconds…