Ruth Newman dies at 113; oldest San Francisco earthquake survivor


Ruth Newman was just a child living on an outlying ranch when the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 struck, but her memory of that day never faded.

“She would tell us she remembered my grandmother being upset because they had just milked the cow earlier and she had separated the cream and all and put it in containers that got thrown to the floor,” said Newman’s daughter Beverly Dodds.




An earlier version of this post identified Ruth Newman’s daughter as Beverley Dobbs. It’s Beverly Dodds. The earlier version also said Newman was 5 at the time of the earthquake. She was 4.


Newman was the oldest remaining survivor of the earthquake before her death earlier this summer. She was 113. She was one of last two known survivors of the powerful quake.

San Francisco earthquake 1906. Survivors of 1906 earthquake stand amid ruins on Sacramento Street watching fires that swept downtown. AP photo.
(file photo / AP)

Newman was 4 years old when the quake struck, shaking her home about 70 miles north of San Francisco at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906. Though the epicenter was in San Francisco, the violent shaking could be felt hundreds of miles away along the San Andreas fault.

“She remembered being downstairs and her father picking her up and running out of the house,” Dodds said.

The family remained on the ranch, where she grew up, because the house wasn’t damaged, Dodds said.


Newman died July 29 at her home in Pebble Beach, Dodds said.

Her death leaves only one known earthquake survivor. William Del Monte, 109, was 3 months old when the earthquake hit, said Lee Housekeeper, an organizer of the quake’s commemoration events.

An estimated 3,000 people were killed in the earthquake and subsequent fires. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, measurements of the 1906 quake have ranged from magnitude 7.7 to 8.3.

One of five children, Newman was a strong-willed woman -- she drove and played golf into her mid-90s -- who kept busy knitting, gardening and baking.

“She was one who couldn’t sit down,” her daughter said.

Newman and her late husband met at a dance, and after marrying they continued to go out dancing, even joining a dancing club in Sacramento, where they raised two children.

Dodds said her parents would have a scotch with water every night before bed, a habit she said might have added to her mother’s longevity -- though, she allowed, genes may have helped too. Two of Newman’s siblings were also centenarians.


Newman attended a few of the annual earthquake commemoration events in San Francisco, which include gatherings at Lotta’s Fountain in downtown before dawn. But she missed some too. Her daughter said that on some occasions she preferred to sleep in rather than rise before dawn to attend.