In a follow-up to a story published here a few days ago, the San Francisco supervisors agreed Tuesday to raise the official death toll from the 1906 earthquake in time for next year's centennial of a disaster that was a defining event in the city's history. The move came at the urging of a retired city archivist who has spent much of the last 40 years pouring over records to come up with a more accurate death count from the earthquake. The number has stood at 478 since 1907.
Gladys Hansen, now the curator at the Museum of the City of San Francisco, said the tally overlooked single women, who were not registered in the city directory, as well as Chinese, Japanese and Irish workers, many of whom were illegal immigrants. She said the actual death toll from the quake and subsequent fire is closer to 3,000.
Hansen said the city has a responsibility to ensure that the people who lost their lives on April 18, 1906, are remembered -- that "each and every one of them is afforded the dignity of recognition."
City officials settled on 478 as the "official death toll" by taking the number of bodies brought to the city morgue and adding 100. Railroads, the military, insurance companies and other civic boosters wanted to keep the number low so the city's reputation wouldn't be damaged further, Hansen said. There is evidence to show the number was suppressed for political reasons.