Committee of Fifty (1906)

This Committee of Fifty, sometimes referred to as Committee of Safety, Citizens' Committee of Fifty or Relief and Restoration Committee of Law and Order, was called into existence by Mayor Eugene Schmitz during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Mayor invited civic leaders, entrepreneurs, newspaper men and politicians—but none of the members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors—to participate in this committee in whose hands the civil administration of San Francisco would rest.

Franklin Hall, the committee's final venue

Schmitz thought it necessary to form this body to manage the crisis during the disaster, although there was no legal basis for it. It first assembled in the basement of the ruined Hall of Justice on the afternoon of the earthquake, Wednesday, April 18, at 3 p.m. By 5 p.m. the location became dangerous and the Committee crossed Portsmouth Square to meet at the Plaza Hotel, which in turn had to be abandoned two hours later. At 8 p.m. the Committee assembled at the Fairmont Hotel's ballroom, sitting along the edge of the stage and on packing cases. At this point, the 19 sub-committees were set up. Shortly after 11 p.m. they dispersed.[1]: 121 [2]: 153 

Overnight the Fairmont Hotel burned down. On Thursday, April 19, at 6 a.m., the Committee met at the North End police station. At 11 a.m. they had to abandon the police station because of the scorching heat, and reconvened at 2 p.m. at Franklin Hall, on Fillmore Street, where they stayed for the remainder of the crisis, which became known as Temporary City Hall. At 4.30 p.m. Abe Ruef appeared there. He had not been called to be a member, but invited himself, and Mayor Schmitz accepted his offer, and he became chairman of an additional sub-committee, trying unsuccessfully to relocate the Chinese. Actually, there were more than hundred members, but they never met all together, since during the chaos members came and went as they could or would.


On April 19, 1906, The New York Times published the first list of the members of the committee with 49 names - it did not include that of the Mayor - which originated the name Committee of Fifty. Later, more and more people went to the meetings and here are the names of people who were mentioned by different sources as members:[1]: 121 


  • Relief of the Hungry, chairman Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger
  • Housing the Homeless, chairman W. J. Bartnett; Fairfax W. Wheelan
  • Relief of Sick and Wounded, chairwoman Katharine Felton
  • Drugs and Medical Supplies, chairman Dr. Harris
  • Relief of Chinese, chairman Rev. Filben
  • Transportation of Refugees, chairman Thomas Magee
  • Citizens' Police
  • Auxiliary Fire Department
  • Restoration of Water Supply, chairman Frank P. Anderson
  • Restoration of Light and Telephones, chairman Rudolph Spreckels
  • Restoration of Fire in Dwellings, chairman Jeremiah Dinan
  • Restoration of Abattoirs
  • Resumption of Transportation, chairman Thornwall Mullally
  • Resumption of Civil Government, chairman Garett McEnerney
  • Resumption of the Judiciary, chairman Judge Charles W. Slack
  • Resumption of Retail Trade
  • Organization of Wholesalers
  • Finance, chairman James D. Phelan
  • Sanitation
  • Relocation of the Chinese, chairman Abe Ruef
  • History and Statistics, chairman Frank S. Drum


  1. ^ a b Bean, Walton (1974). Boss Ruef's San Francisco: the Story of the Union Labor Party, Big Business, and the Graft Prosecution. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520000940.
  2. ^ Thomas, Gordon; Witts, Max Morgan (1971), The San Francisco Earthquake, New York, London: Stein and Day, Souvenir Press, Dell, ISBN 978-0-8128-1360-9

External linksEdit


  • Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan Witts: The San Francisco Earthquake (New York: Stein and Day, 1971; London: Souvenir Press, 1971; reprinted Dell Paperback, 1972, SBN 440–07631)