San Francisco’s Age of Optimism – 1906–1930
In the Spring of 1906, an earthquake of colossal magnitude, centered near San Francisco, was followed by a catastrophic fire which destroyed two-thirds of the infrastructure, commercial buildings and homes within the city. Despite the devastation, a great number of San Franciscans accepted the challenge to rebuild their metropolis to be a safer, more habitable and more prosperous home. Generally, the period from the earthquake forward was an age of immense optimism. There was tremendous cooperation and unprecedented workarounds of the political and social challenges. Every success was celebrated. By 1915, San Francisco “invited the world” to a grand celebration of the rebuilt city with an International World’s Fair, boosting accomplishments and exuding civic pride.
Everything was not perfect, however, during this period. Following American involvement in the World War, a pandemic flu caused more American deaths than all of the military battles. Additionally, the 1920s was a period of stricter immigration restrictions, labor clashes and racial animosity that left lasting scars.
During these years, San Franciscans took a relaxed approach to the enforcement of the Prohibition restrictions of the 18th Amendment and sustained its merrymaking reputation. The city continued to promote a tourist-brochure image of tolerance and opportunity. San Francisco was thriving, until the economic stock market crash of October 29th 1929 soured the revelry. This course will examine the San Francisco spirit that formed during those 24 post-quake years, and how that might still be reflected in the city of today.
John Freeman is a native San Franciscan, who received his BA in History from the University of San Francisco and Master’s Degree from San Francisco State University. After 35 years of teaching in San Francisco Pubic High Schools, John retired to pursue his passion, researching and sharing fascinating local history. John has published numerous articles, consulted for museum exhibits, and offered input on several historic novels set in San Francisco. He has also been a student at Fromm since 2012. This will be the fifth course he has taught at Fromm.