Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dr. Bine Returns Home

There are a lot more Vienna postcards from Dr. René Bine that I haven't posted, but I think it's probably time to move on to his other adventures. Since he was in Vienna in 1904 and 1905, I had wondered where he was in 1906. I don't have any postcards from 1906, but I have a number from 1907 and 1908. Was he back in San Francisco for the 1906 earthquake? It turns out he was.
San Francisco's Nob Hill in Ruins (Source)
A later passport application shows that he had been in Vienna from September 1904 until February 1905. He went back to Heidelberg, Germany and Paris, France for a little over a year, but not until December of 1906. Here's his photo, circa 1923 from the passport application.

Then, of course I wondered what Dr. Bine's experience had been in the San Francisco earthquake. It wasn't hard to find out. In his book, The Good Years: From 1900 to the First World War, Walter Lord writes that when the earthquake struck at 5:12 A.M. on April 18, 1906, "young Dr. Rene Bine at first thought he was dreaming and waited to wake up." In describing how ordinary people did remarkable things in the aftermath of the earthquake, Lord writes that "gentle Dr. Rene Bine coolly commandeered an auto at pistol point to get to the hospital and lend his help." It didn't stop there.

Dr. Bine, age 24,  volunteered his services to the Army and was put in charge of the largest refugee camp, pictured below.

Refugee Camp #6 at Harbor View in San Francisco's Marina District (Source)
He was the surgeon in the camp of 600, but he was also responsible for health and sanitation and managing a sometimes unruly group of refugees. According to a special study by Gaines Foster of the Center of Military History,  Dr. Bine, assisted by a nurse, saw an average of 36 patients per day.

If you have read the previous posts of Dr. Bine in Vienna, it will come as no surprise that he documented everything he saw and did during the aftermath of the earthquake. Years later, his daughter Marie Louise donated two boxes of his papers from 1906, including correspondence, photos, payroll sheets, directives, and newspaper clippings. These papers are now stored at the California Historical Society in San Francisco.

Andrea Rees Davies, historian and former San Francisco firefighter, spent ten years researching the relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake and just published her book Saving San Francisco: Relief and Recovery after the 1906 Disaster. Davies was able to use the Bine papers as a source in exploring the social order at refugee camps. The book provides a very interesting perspective on how the earthquake affected different neighborhoods and social groups and the role the relief efforts played in creating the San Francisco of today.

One thing I noticed from Dr. Bine's postcards home is that the address changed after 1906, suggesting that their own house at 1554 Post Street was probably damaged during the earthquake.


  1. How interesting! It makes you wonder how the postcards made it on to the market for sale as his papers were obviously being archived and there was family interest in them.

  2. I just LOVE reading all interesting. I agree with Lisa, it seems the family would hold on to the postcards or give them to the Historical Society....funny they ended up sold...but lucky for us.

  3. Lisa and Pamela,
    I think there were probably just so many cards and the San Francisco materials had specific historical importance, whereas the others are all over the board...medicine, opera, family members.

  4. You've found a lot of additional info about Dr. Bine's life. I wonder what would happen if an earthquake of this magnitude struck today in San Francisco.

  5. It is a wonder that after seeing 36 patients a day and dealing with all the other things he took on himself that he even had time to document everything. He must have been an unusual man.

  6. You make the story so fascinating - it is almost as though the earthquake becomes more real and more immediate because we know someone who was involved.

  7. I've always been amazed by the photos that show the San Francisco ruins. I particularly like the view of the refugee camp, one I hadn't seen before.

  8. The line about the 'gentle' doctor using a pistol to commandeer a car touched my heart....What a man of character!!

  9. Your mini-biography of Dr. Bine has been so interesting and well written. He was such a remarkable man, I hope you can find more about his life. A trip to Vienna would be a great idea!



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