search   index   by subject   by year   biographies   books  SF Activities  shop museum   contact

REPORT TO THE MASSACHUSETTS ASSOCIATION
FOR THE RELIEF OF CALIFORNIA

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 27, 1906


GENTLEMEN: Your committee has investigated conditions here as fully as possible.

It has met the executive committee many times collectively and many of its members individually.

It has seen a large number of the people who have been most actively engaged in relief work; both those who still have matters in charge and those who were working earlier, in charge of sections, relief stations, camps, etc.

It has had numerous personal letters and applications; has met and heard the United Refugees and other malcontents, and many cases have been investigated.

It has carefully investigated the books, accounts, methods, and results of the committee having the matter in charge.

It has met and consulted with very many leading men, professional and business, in this city, whose opinions were of value.We found on unanimous opinion, whatever criticism might be made of methods or even of results, and that was that the gentlemen on that committee and its executive committee were of the highest standing and character.

We wish to express our opinion in the most emphatic way that those gentlemen are worthy of confidence. They are doing the best they can to meet an extremely difficult and distressing situation.

We believe they are dealing with in the right way, though we and they themselves both believe that the expenses should be radically cut down, red tape cut off, and results procured more rapidly.

Mr. [Nathan] Dohrmann has the whole situation in his mind. He is devoting his time and conspicuous business ability to meeting the distressing needs of this community with a devotion and singleness of purpose that could not be excelled and is rarely equaled.

He, as well as all the other members of the committee, is serving without pay, as well as many others who are actively at work day by day.

It is remarkable that among the many who criticized delay, red tape, expenses, etc., no one had been over the situation, looked into the methods of work or cases on file, or really knew what was being done actually or what it cost to do it.

More remarkable, that no one was able to suggest better men or better methods, nor any able and responsible person who would undertake or could do the work.

In consequence of this, we were led to make the report and recommendations which we submit herewith


THE SITUATION IN GENERAL

We should, perhaps, give a general view of the present situation.The business district has been somewhat built up with temporary buildings. It is mostly, however, cleared and uncleared ruins. Not a single first-class building is under construction.

The same is true of the dwelling-house district. The best class of retail business is well cared for in one-story wooden buildings on Van Ness Avenue, which was formerly one of the finest residence streets.

There is very little building of any kind going on as yet, though a few cheap houses and flats are under construction. there are not nearly enough buildings to house the refugees, to say nothing of the workmen who must come in before the city can be built up.

Some of the main thoroughfares are cleared, many are not. Some car lines are running, many are not, but it is possible to get about.

Very few of the side streets are cleared as yet.

Practically all business, banks, and offices are in temporary quarters and will be for a long time.

In our opinion, the high price of land and especially the high price of labor is responsible for this condition. Capital will not be largely invested in building enterprises for a long time to come, not while such conditions exist.


CAMPS AND HOUSING

There are now 18,000 people in tents and shacks built of packing boxes, cooking out of doors, in the organized camps of the relief committee; 10,000 to 15,000 are in tents and shacks of the same character on vacant land all over the city.

They must have a roof over their heads and a dry floor under foot before the rainy season. this is necessary, not only for health, morality, etc., but to clear the situation so that you can continue family life and get people settled when one can find them and correctly ascertain actual necessities.

Private enterprise is not providing for this necessity. The committee therefore has under construction and rapidly being erected 6,000 cottages or shacks on the public parks. They are built under contract and a bonus and a forfeit, and cost $100 for a two-room shack and $150 for a three-room shack.

They are matched boards, shingle roof, three sliding windows, one outside and two inside doors, with a rough board floor.

The demand for them is enormous, and many people would like such buildings on their own lots, but lumber is so high and scarce and labor so scarce that few can get them.

A rent of $2 per room per month is to be collected for them. Theoretically, they are to be moved from the parks in one year; but in our opinion many of them will be there much longer, and many or all will eventually be moved onto other land.

We are firmly convinced that this was the best and probably the only way to meet the housing problem and preserve the public health.

We have personally visited and inspected most, if not all, of the camps; inspected their latrines, washrooms, etc., and the conditions are wonderfully good under the circumstances.

The camps are in charge of Mr. Rudolph Spreckels, who has taken hold of them in the most efficient way and who very quickly reduced the bread line and cut expenses $2,000 a day.

Free distribution and free food and public restaurants have been stopped in every camp but one. Anyone who desires to be fed must go to the one camp, where alone is free food distributed, and then only to people who have cards from the authorities. This camp is at the Speedway, several miles out in the Golden Gate Park.

No one is allowed there except the aged and infirm and those incapable of self-support. People already there, some 250, who are capable of working are being moved out as fast as other shelter can be found.

Eventually all of those people, who are mostly old, crippled, and utterly incapable of work, will be moved to Ingleside, where they are constructing a temporary institution, and they will eventually become a public charge.

While in many cases this method will cause some distress, and certainly much complaint and criticism, we think it was the only way out of a difficult situation, and Mr. Spreckels deserves great credit for having sufficient pluck and enterprise to carry it out.


REHABILITATION

The committee which has this matter in charge has Mr. Dohrmann at the head and many of the most competent and able and representative men of the community among its members.

It has many volunteer workers familiar with charity work, including Mr. Oscar Cushing, a young lawyer, who has devoted his time and energies freely to such work ever since the fire, must to his own personal inconvenience and pecuniary loss, while so many others who were called forth by the emergency for a short time have returned to their own affairs, but still feel at liberty to severely criticize the methods and accomplishment of those who have the matter in charge.

We mention Mr. Cushing because we met him and are much indebted to him for suggestions and help.

Another man should not be forgotten, Mr. [Ernest] Bicknell, sent here from Chicago by the Chicago Commercial Association and mayor's committee. A capable, self-contained, thoroughly trained, and systematic worker, he has been the man behind the gun throughout all changes in administration. He has kept things going and procured results. He has been unknown and his name unheard by many people leading citizens familiar with what has been going on, but anyone on the inside will tell you how valuable his services have been.

In our opinion it is most unfortunate that he is leaving this week, and it would be a great advantage if he could be retained or got to return.

There have been about 20,000 applications for rehabilitation, and the committee had to stop receiving them because it was impossible to investigate and act upon them. Over 11,000 cases have been acted upon, after investigation, 8,700 having been assisted and over $600,000 expended for this purpose. Some 6,000 more applications have been investigated and await the necessary funds and action. The remainder are being investigated and reported on as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Dohrmann, who has the whole situation in view, has carefully made up a schedule of sums of money he considers will be necessary, first , to relieve actual necessities, care for the sick and incapable, prevent starvation; second, providing shelter, etc.; third, the keeping alive of the necessary institution, hospitals, etc., until such time, say one year, as the community can again maintain them itself. Actual necessities must come first and be provided for.

He and the committee felt that, until they were assured that the money not yet sent to San Francisco could be secured for other uses, he was not justified in going on with other work.

In consequence of this, feeling as we did that this most valuable work of helping people to become self-supporting who could not be so without such aid, should be carried on and completed as rapidly as possible, we telegraphed you advising to sending of $100,000 at once for this purpose.

The work is not going on as rapidly as possible, and we are assured that the employees and expense will be radically reduced in a few weeks at the latest.


NECESSITY FOR DISCONTINUING DISTRIBUTION

From our point of view all such work, in fact the distribution or expected distribution of such a fund and the application for it and waiting for its distribution, creates great unrest and discontent.

The sooner all such work is done and such distribution stopped and no relief at all granted, except to prevent actual distress and prevent suffering, aid to the sick and those incapable of self-help, the sooner the people will settle down and get to work.

Mistakes are made, of course. Some people who have money in bank and are earning good wages get some assistance, as a sewing machine, etc. Then each neighbor in like or less favorable circumstances wishes the same.

In fact, the almost universal feeling among the refugees is that they are part owners of a fund poured out by a generous public to help make good their losses, and they are entitled to their share; that the committee is wrongfully withholding it from them. It is pitiful that in no case that we have seen or investigated, or asked the neighbor in the next tent, has the reply been: "I am all right, my husband is at work; but there is Mrs. Brown, she has no means of support for two children, and she is not well enough to work." Yet such conditions existed; there were many such, aged and infirm, some with families.

This is the most discouraging symptom of all, and it is almost universal. So strongly is this fact realized that such people as a bank president, a leading lawyer, three charity workers, several business men, three men who had charge of sections or camps, and many refugees themselves have expressed the opinion forcibly that perhaps it would be better if all the fund had originally be distributed per capita, or if it were all thrown into the bay and all such work stopped. Then the people would get out and work.

Naturally, such a course is impossible when there are thousands of aged and infirm, widows with children, professional men and others who are really in actual need, either of relief for some time or temporary assistance before they can become self-supporting.

We believe, however, that all such work should be put upon a permanent efficient basis, as it will continue more or less for many months, and the community itself must eventually deal with it, conserving some outside money for that purpose.

In this the committee itself is in sympathy with our views, as are all the volunteer and other workers we have seen.


COMPLAINTS AND CRITICISMS

We have heard many such from all sources; some of them justifiable, more absolutely without foundation or based upon absolute misinformation.

Not a single person whom we have met who criticizes severely has looked into the actual conditions, actual methods, or actual facts, or what was being accomplished.

Not a single member of the committee or worker with that committee but freely admitted that there was red tape, delay, expenses, and mistakes. They are all trying their best to remedy them, and in our opinion will soon succeed.

They have only been in charge a little over a month, and in many departments have effected radical reduction in expenses and simplification and efficiency of methods.

We presumed to make a few suggestions, all of which were taken in good part, and several of them will, we believe, be carried out, and that shortly. In fact they were not new, and some members of the committee, and many familiar with the work, had realized the necessity before we came here.

We must remember that this committee inherited a system born in the chaos of an indescribable disaster, changed from day to day to meet existing needs and changing conditions.

Work in many departments is being rapidly curtailed and finally stopped, like the distribution of food, clothing, meals, etc.; work in other departments starting up, like the housing, separation of the able from the infirm, the rehabilitation and investigation of worthy cases.

It is no wonder mistakes were made, delays occurred and expenses and employees were not curtailed as rapidly as the actual need for them diminished. It was inevitable.


UNJUSTIFIABLE COMPLAINTS

We met an organization or corporation of the United Refugees, represented by Messrs. [Alva] Udell, Love, and others, men and women, organized and systematic stirrers-up of discontent.

They are undoubtedly well intentioned and perfectly honest in many cases, but in our opinion, their plans are visionary and often socialistic, their ideas harmful in making others badly enough off now, in all conscience, discontented with their lot. It does harm, not good. It complicates a sufficiently complicated situation and unjustifiably throws discredit upon and renders more difficult and less successful the work of capable efficient public benefactors, who are doing their utmost to serve their people.

They have been sending circulars, affidavits, and statements broadcast throughout the country, wherever funds were held. Even they did not presume to impugn the integrity and honesty of the committee; but their way was a better way. They did not have actual facts to produce, nor did they know the facts of the work. Naturally, they could and did cite mistakes, and found plenty of people who wanted and thought they were entitled to something they had not been able to get.


Return to the 1906 Earthquake Exhibit.

Return to top of page