At the age of 39, Thomas Augustine Jones found himself a widow with two teenagers and three daughters under the age of 10 to raise. It was 1889, and San Francisco was still somewhat of a wild city. Not exactly the best place to raise children, yet he did it, and they turned out to be pretty strong women.
Margaret Helps Her Father
My great grandmother was just 9 years old when her mother died. Her grandmother was living with them at the time. But, when she died and her oldest siblings married, Margaret found herself filling the role of mother to her two youngest sisters.
Everyone but Margaret was married by 1900. She worked as a japaner and she kept watch on her father.
She married in 1904 at the age of 23. She was still the devoted daughter with her father moving in with the newlyweds.
March of 1906
The Jones women were raising their families in San Francisco in 1906. They all had young children, roofs over their heads, husbands who worked with steady incomes. Life was good.
Josephine (Jones) Pohley, the oldest, had three children aged 5, 9, and 12. Margaret (Jones) Jackson had just given birth to her first. Gertrude (Jones) Burke had four children aged 1, 3, 5, and 7, She was pregnant with her fifth. Alice (Jones) Bourne, the youngest, had also given birth to her first child that wonderful month of March.
When Disaster Struck
April 1906 was when the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed their beloved city. All of the Jones women were there.
In those early hours of April 18, the Jones women, their husbands, and their children were out on the street running for their lives. Each saw things they did not want to remember.
Margaret with her baby clutched to her breast fled their home with her husband, Harry, and her father, Thomas. Outside they found their neighbor sitting on her front step. They begged her to leave. But she wouldn’t budge. She’d paid her rent and she wasn’t leaving.
As they turned to flee, they felt a rumbling and heard a terrible sound. When they looked back, the woman’s house was had collapsed and she was dead underneath the ruble.
According to my grandmother, her mother and her siblings found each other in the city. Wearily, they dragging along babies and young children through the damaged streets of the city.
At the top of a hill, they happened upon a business owner selling baby carriages. He’d jacked up the prices to make a profit off fearful parents.
William Bourne, husband of Alice, was infuriated. He was a boxer and punched the man hard enough to knock him out. He stuffed some money in the man’s pocket, took whatever baby carriages the women needed, then sent the rest careening down the hill for others to use.
Can You Imagine Their Fear?
I sure can! I can see the women pushing baby carriages. The men holding smaller children. Children grabbing each other’s hands. They’re on alert to avoid falling facades, cracked streets, and the fires that seemed to breaking out everywhere.
The people around them were either terrified or stunned. Chaos ensued.
They had to come to grips that one of their family was missing.
All But One Survived
My grandmother said that in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire they searched everywhere for Gertrude’s husband, John Burke. They eventually found him dead at a makeshift morgue. He had been robbed of the rings he loved to wear and his money.
John Burke’s death was devastating. But somehow, even with babies and young children to care for, they escaped without any other losses.
The Jones families lived in the camps set up at Golden Gate Park. They cooked outdoors, slept in tents, and used newspaper for toilet paper.
When the dust settled and the flames were out, only Josephine (Jones) and Joseph Pohley had a home left to go to.
Restarting Their Lives
It isn’t easy beginning anew. Margaret and Alice had babies only 4 weeks before the earthquake struck. Gertrude was pregnant and widowed. Josephine was the only one who had a home to live in when it was all said and done.
Margaret’s family stayed in San Francisco for awhile, but by 1910 they had moved across the bay to Oakland.
Gertrude had no income and left her children in an orphanage for awhile while she sorted things out.
Alice’s family stayed in San Francisco. They eventually took in Gertrude and her five children.
Though they moved on, they were forever marked by what they had experinece. For instance, despite her inner strenght, Margaret trembled whenever the earth shook. Could you blame her?
They Really Were Remarkable
The 1906 earthquake and fire was just one of the ordeals the Jones women survived. Margaret and Harry divorced in the late 1920s. It was a messy divorce where he attempted to burn down their house so she couldn’t live there. Later in life, she took in some of her grandchildren and raised them.
Gertrude’s had her struggles raising her children on her own. She did it alone. She never remarried.
Josephine and Alice’s lives were filled with the usual ups and downs that we all experience.
Longevity Was In Their Genes
Maybe it was genes. After all their father, Thomas Jones, lived well into his 70s. All of the Jones women outlived their husbands.
Josephine died at the age of 92, Margaret and Gertrude at the age of 85, and Alice at the age of 93. Through thick and thin, the four Jones women survived it all. I think they were truly remarkable women!
Did your female ancestors survive the 1906 earthquake and fire? Did they survive another natural disaster? Tell us about it in the comments.