Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

Chinese American Women and the San Francisco Earthquake

The ruins of Chinatown after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Bob Bowen Collection, National Park Service

On April 18, 1906, a major earthquake struck San Francisco, California, killing hundreds and putting the Chinese American communities in and around the Bay Area in serious peril. The buildings of Chinatown were destroyed by fire. The residents of Chinatown fled, some carried by ferry across San Francisco Bay.  Others were forced past the outskirts of town, south to the area of what is now the San Francisco Airport, as the city sought to reclaim the lucrative site in the center of the city.

Chinese refugees.
Chinese Historical Society, FN-23007

Secretary of War William Taft refused to allow Chinese men to take jobs in the rebuilding effort. For months Chinese mothers kept their destitute families alive and cared for their children, moving between tent cities across the region. San Francisco’s city leaders tried to prevent the Chinese from returning to Chinatown and demanded that the community be broken up, but because the Chinese owned the property itself, and because the white merchants feared the loss of trade with China at the busy port at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the men and women demanded that Chinatown be rebuilt where it had always been. Within a year the Chinese Americans of San Francisco returned to Chinatown, rebuilt from the smoldering wreckage. 26