City Bosses in the United States: A Study of Twenty Municipal Bosses

By Harold B. Zink | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
ABRAHAM RUEF

Lord Bryce once wrote that "no other population in America furnished so good a field for demagogy" as San Francisco, for "that scum which the westward moving wave of emigration carries on its crest is here stopped, because it can go no further."1San Francisco has had many overlords in the course of its existence, but no one of them has held the same prominence that Abe Ruef enjoyed for a brief period of about seven years following 1900.

A native of San Francisco, Mr. Ruef has spent his entire life there from his birth on September 2, 1864, until the present, except for the years when the law secluded him in San Quentin prison across the bay from San Francisco. Apparently he is the only Jew to have gained lordship over one of the larger cities of the United States. His father, Myer, a native of Terney, France, held a record of service in the French army.2 Myer Ruef's name first appears in the city directory of 1865 as a dealer in fancy goods. In 1868 he turned to dry goods, in 1891 to real estate, and by 1898 he had gained such affluence as to be listed in large letters as a "Capitalist."3 Abe's mother, a native of Alsace, came with her husband to San Francisco in the early sixties. A sister, Louise, worked as a stenographer in the Ruef law offices, another sister, Mary, taught in the Garfield primary school, while Henrietta, a third sister, apparently married at an early age. An uncle, by the name of Hirsch, belonged to a dry goods firm, and a brother-in-law, A. Altmann, held the

____________________
1
James Bryce, The American Commonwealth ( 3 vols., London, 1888), III, 227, 246-247.
2
The author is indebted to Mr. W. H. Nanry, of the San Francisco Bureau of Governmental Research, for information concerning the parents of Mr. Ruef.
3
See p. 383 of the issue of 1866, p. 481 of the 1868- 1869 issue, p. 1193 of the 1891 issue, and p. 1446 of the volume for 1898.

-350-

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