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Letter written by Elsie Cross to Ruth (page 2 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 2]

…my father told us to dress as quick as we could and if another shake came to finish in the street.

Continued as I have to go downtown to get a Pineapple Smash & a library book. See “World [ ] Illustrations of Shock”


 May 18, ‘06

After we got out of the house my father said that the only trouble now, was fire. All that day there were shocks and the sun was a ball of purply red from the smoke. It was very hot. You could hear building after building being blasted. People passed in all kinds of wagons and some on foot with what possessions they could take. I forgot to tell you that a house across the street was moved over 9 ft. and the house next to that went down into the earth 10 ft. I will send you the pictures my father took of them and also some other places. Wednesday afternoon with a few blankets, * a canvas & a eiderdown we went way out in the Sunset where the fire could never reach and slept part of the night on the front doorsteps. It was as bright as day and you could have read a book in the house it was so light. About ten o’clock, the fire having