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Saving San FranciscoSaving San Francisco

Relief and Recovery after the 1906 Disaster

Andrea Rees Davies


Book published by Temple University Press


For most San Franciscans, April 18, 1906 started at 5:12 am with 65 seconds of violent quaking followed by a relentless, raging fire that left 98% of the structures in the most populated part of the city in ruins. However, while everyone felt the earthquake equally, they did not all suffer to the same degree. In Saving San Francisco, Andrea Rees Davies, a former firefighter, tells a new story of the 1906 catastrophe. Weaving the experiences of ordinary people with urban politics and history, Saving San Francisco challenges the long-lived myth that the fire that spread as a result of the quake brought out altruism and leveled class distinctions among residents. Although the relief and rebuilding efforts provided some opportunities for marginalized groups and individuals — such as white women and the Chinese — to step outside their limited spheres to find their voices in the public realm, Davies shows how the disaster did not break down social barriers; rather, it maintained the prevailing hierarchies of class, race, and gender.

Andrea Rees Davies is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at California State University, Northridge.

REVIEWS:

Saving San Francisco makes an original contribution to San Francisco history and to the study of how cities respond to natural disasters. Davies has written the first systematic social and political history of the recovery efforts after the earthquake and fire of 1906. Using a rich variety of archival evidence, including an excellent selection of personal stories, she contributes to both social welfare and Progressive Era scholarship. This is a convincing revisionist account that shows how the recovery process was shaped by existing gender, class, and racial fault lines in San Francisco society.”

—William Issel, Professor of History Emeritus at San Francisco State University and coauthor (with Robert W. Cherny) of San Francisco, 1865-1932: Politics, Power, and Urban Development

“Davies uses the 1906 disaster as a lens through which to ask hard questions about the social and political life of San Francisco. She successfully weaves together the intricate stories of ordinary people's struggles and daily lives with high politics, urban history, and analyses of race, class, and gender. Important, smart, and crisply written, Saving San Francisco is both forceful and lively, and Davies's Epilogue about master disaster narratives is a graceful, moving close to what will become 'the' book on this subject for years to come.”

—Barbara Berglund, Associate Professor of History at the University of South Florida and author of Making San Francisco American: Cultural Frontiers in the Urban West, 1846-1906



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