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Letter written by Elsie Cross to Ruth (page 3 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 3]

died down after & Ill my brother and I each slept on one side of my mother. Both my mother and father did not sleep. The next day in the morning my mother and I packed in a steamer trunk old family laces, miniatures, and clothing. In the afternoon my father drove up in his buggy and we put the silver, jewelry, family pictures, & blankets in & went out in to the Sunset. My room is all old fashioned furniture of mahogany and my wall, bedspread, and other trimming is old rose. I felt very sorry to leave this & my piano, but as nothing else could be done I did not say anything. Where we went was out by the park, & the place was a grocery store & saloon. They had their own cow and chickens and also liquors & grocery provisions, the latter being stored in the house. There were 4 little children and a baby one month old. The first night we slept outdoors and they did not stop blasting when night came on but blasted all through the night. In the morning I was awakened by a dreadfully loud blast and heard my mother say that she had watched the fire all night and it was now, she thought, under control.