PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT inaugurated the organized and systematic relief work through the National Red Cross Society. Before the embers of the conflagration had cooled he issued the following statement:
Washington, D. C., April 22.The following statement was issued from the White House this afternoon:
“To the public: After full consultation with Secretary Taft, the president of the American National Red Cross Association, who also as secretary of war is controlling the army work and the expenditure of the money, probably two millions and a half, appropriated and to be appropriated by congress for the relief of San Francisco, I wish to make the following suggestion:
“Contributions both in money and in kind are being given most generously for the relief of those who have suffered through this appalling calamity. Unless there is a proper organization for handling these contributions they will in large part be wasted and will in large part fail to reach the people to whom it is most to be desired they should reach.
“The American National Red Cross Association has sent out to take charge of the relief work Dr. Edward Devine, general secretary of the Charity Organization Society of New York, whose experience has) been large in work of this kind. Dr. De-vine will work in conjunction with Judge Morrow, United States Circuit judge of the Ninth circuit, and the head of the California Red Cross Association. Gen. Funston already has been directed to co-operate with Dr. Devine, and has advised the secretary of war that he will do so.
“Secretary Metcalf, who is on his way to the Pacific slope, will at once put himself in touch with Dr. Devine, as well as with the judge, the governor of California, and the mayor of San Francisco, to see if there is anything else the administration can do, and he will assist in all possible ways the effort to systematize what is being done.
“I recommend that all charitable and relief organizations and individuals who desire to contribute do so through the Red Cross Association, and that where provisions and supplies be sent they be consigned to Dr. Devine, Red Cross, San Francisco, and that Dr. Devine be notified by telegraph of the consignments. At the same time Jacob H. Schiff, the treasurer of the New York Red Cross Association, in New York, may be notified that the consignments have been sent to Dr. Devine, or else the notification can be sent to Charles H. Keep, assistant secretary of the treasury, Washington, D. C., and treasurer of the American National Red Cross Association.
“I also suggest that all contributions that already have been forwarded be brought to the attention of Dr. Devine by telegraph, which telegram should state the name and address of the consignee and the amount and nature of the consignment. It is better to send all moneys to Mr. Keep or Mr. Schiff; they will then be telegraphed to Dr. Devine as the money is needed.
“The White House, April 22, 1906. Theodore Roosevelt.”
At the time the foregoing was issued the President was not aware that the Citizens’ Committee of San Francisco headed by ex-Mayor James D. Phelan was completely organized for relief work and was at the time directing the succor of the victims.
Upon learning this fact he speedily endorsed the committee and its work, and instructed the Red Cross Society to cooperate with the Citizens’ Committee.
President Roosevelt aroused criticism in some directions by declining aid from foreign countries. The first tenders of aid from abroad came from foreign steamship companies and later several foreign governments expressed a desire to contribute. The President took the ground that the United States was able to provide all the relief necessary. The justification for his attitude was expressed in an address by General Stewart L. Wood-ford, former minister to Spain, speaking with the authority of the President. He said:
“The President, in the midst of the horrors of San Francisco kindly but firmly declined the assistance offered by the other nations, and especially, through St. George’s society, the assistance of England. The President meant simply that, bowed as the American people were under their load, it was his wish that the American people show to the world that under such an adversity the United States would take care of its own; would rise equal to the terrible occasion; would feed-their own hungry, would clothe their own naked, and, spurred on by the indomitable courage which this people always have exhibited under stress of distracting calamity, set up their flag and move to the assistance of `the city that once was,’ and build a new city, even though the earth shook beneath its foundations.
“In doing thisin refusing your great beneficence, the President still feels that he is greatly honored, as the American people are, in that England and the other great nations not only sent messages of regret, but offers of substantial material aid. He felt that the nation, as a nation, would set an example to other nations.”
All funds and supplies were dispensed through the Citizens’ Committee or general relief committee as it was known, with the co-operation of the army and the Red Cross. Money, food, shelter and clothing poured in from every quarter. On the Monday succeeding the fire the food problem had been solved and its distribution reduced to a system. The people were fed thereafter in a thoroughly businesslike manner. From the water front, where the boatloads of provisions docked, there was an endless procession of carts and drays carrying food to the scores of sub-stations established throughout the city and the parks. At these stations food and drink, comprising bread, pre, pared meats, and canned goods, milk, and a limited amount of hot coffee, was served to all those who applied. About 1,500 tons of provisions were being moved daily from the water front.
The food supply committee had fifty-two food depots in operation. Plain food of every description was plentiful.
The troops who dispensed the food played no favorites. Some-times it took two or three hours to get through the lines, and with three meals a day a man living in the parks passed a good part of his time standing for his food.
The Red Cross saw that weak women and children were provided for without waiting in line. Even the people living in houses had to take their chances with the rest of the crowd in the parks near by.
Fully 30,000 refugees were fed by the government at the Presidio and North beach. Provisions were bountifully supplied to all who made application, and there was no suffering from hunger. Over 10,000 tents were given and the authorities distributed them as long as the supply lasted.
Barracks were erected in Golden Gate Park to accommodate 15,000 persons. The buildings contained thirty rooms, in two room apartments, with kitchen arranged so as to suit a family or be divided for the use of single men.
By great luck a lot of lumber yards along the water front escaped. Their stock was appropriated and used for barracks. Two or three lumber schooners arriving from the northern forest country were seized and the stocks used for the same purpose.
Further, the Red Cross, with the approval of Funston, went through the standing residence district and made every householder give over his spare room to refugees. Here, generosity was its own reward. Those residents of the western addition who took in burned out friends or chance acquaintances on the first day had a chance to pick their company. Those who were selfish about it had to take whomsoever the Red Cross sent, even Chinese and new arrivals from Hungary.
The Red Cross people enjoyed the grim joke of this. They trotted ten refugees up to the door of a Pacific Heights residence. The woman of the house came to the door. The sergeant in charge made brief explanation.
“Heavens,” she said, looking them over. “You have brought me two of my discharged cooks.”
“See that the guests are quartered in the parlor,” said the sergeant briefly to his high private.
What with tents, barracks, the exodus to other parts of California, the plan of concentration in the standing houses of the western addition, there was shelter for everyone.
The water supply improved every day. Nearly everywhere the order to boil drinking water was enforced.
All vacant houses in the unburned district were seized. Many vacant flats were taken where the homeless are housed and the sick found good accommodations. Churches, and other buildings, including schoolhouses, were turned into living rooms for the homeless.
In some of the provisional camps established for refugees near the foot of Van Ness avenue and near Fort Mason it was difficult to distinguish men from women. The supply of women’s clothing had been exhausted, and many women could be seen dressed in ordinary soft shirts and overalls. In that garb they walked about their tents unconcernedly.
It was no time for false modesty and those who were able to make themselves comfortable in any sort of clothing were indeed fortunate.
Within a week conditions had improved so rapidly that there was enough water in the mains to justify the removal of the restrictions on washing… Up to that time the only way to get a bath was to dip into the bay. Lights, only candles, of course, were allowed up to 10 p. m.
An idea of the Titanic task of feeding the refugees may be gained from the figures of the number of hungry people fed in one day. Throughout the city rations for 349,440 persons were distributed. At one point provisions were given out to 672 people in an hour for ten hours.
Two thousand persons were fed daily at St. Mary’s cathedral on Van Ness avenue, a relief station organized by the Rev. Father Hannigan and headed by him as chairman of the committee. This was perhaps the best organized and most systematically conducted private station in the city. The committee has a completed directory of the fifty square blocks in the district, and so perfect was the system that there is no duplicating and wrangling. Nine substations gave out orders, and it was arranged for those stations to give out food also. Fourteen members of the clergy were in charge of the various branches of the work.
The emergency hospitals were well organized under direction of army medical officers, and there were plenty of doctors and nurses after the second day.
The only complaint that really existed at that time was the lack of bedding. Though the army and navy were called upon for blankets, quilts, and the like, the supply furnished by those departments was not enough to relieve immediate needs.
Only 30 patients were quartered in the territory that comprised the park emergency hospital at the end of the first week. Considering that over 500 injured people received attention at the park during that time the record was remarkable.
More than 100 physicians and attendants were serving in i he park within forty-eight hours after the first shock.
Among the many pathetic scenes connected with the work of relief were others that illustrated the saving sense of humor which keeps people from going insane in times of great calamity and mental stress.
In the vestibule of a church they were giving away clothes. One shivering woman was being fitted out. “Here, dear,” said the woman in charge, “here is a nice, good warm waist.” “Oh, I couldn’t wear it,” she answered. “You know, I’m in mourning.
Another girl near by said: “Yes, please, I want a waist. I want pink and white, you know; they’re my favorite colors.”
Quite suddenly the smile died on our lips. A little mother came up. “I want clothes for my baby; it’s cold,” she said.
They took the baby from her, and a man near by said to an-other: “The child is dead.”
We went down to Broadway to look for friends. Some people were so dazed they would make no effort to reach the homes of their friends. On the corner was a dapper youth whom we have long known.
A helpful feature of the relief work was the establishment by the Southern Pacific company of a chain of information kept by bureaus, which was served by relays of pony riders carrying the latest bulletins and instructions relative to transportation facilities, provided to relieve the congestion in San Francisco.
A committee sent by the Japanese consul, representing the Japanese relief society, cared for many of the stricken Japanese who still remain in the city. They rendered assistance to white people wherever required. They wired to every large city on the coast asking for supplies to be sent by the Japanese.
It was the desire of President Roosevelt that the work of the Red Cross in alleviating the distress in San Francisco should be done wholly without regard to the person and just as much for the Chinese as for any others.