Publication Date

Spring 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


English and Comparative Literature


Cathleen Miller


California, Golden Gate Bridge, History, Memoir, San Francisco, Travel

Subject Areas

Creative writing; American history; Urban planning


Life Between the Bridges: A Personal History of San Francisco is a hybrid work of history, memoir, and travel writing in which I seek to examine the city of San Francisco through a variety of lenses. The prologue provides an overview of experiences a newcomer to San Francisco might expect. The first chapter examines the current state of the city and addresses the pressing issue of high housing costs. This chapter also introduces the theme of optimism, a unifying concept throughout my thesis. I then provide a brief biography of my childhood and outline the events that led me to move to San Francisco. The remaining chapters are about specific aspects of the city. Chapter 4, for instance, is a geographical survey of the city’s natural features. Most sections of that chapter tie into experiences I have had at those locations. I depict the lives of this area’s first peoples, enumerate the etymologies of San Francisco’s street names, and place the city’s iconic locations of Alcatraz, Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge in their social and historical contexts. My opinion of San Francisco is positive; nevertheless, I do not shy away from addressing the city’s shortcomings. In later chapters I explore how San Francisco has struggled, and sometimes failed, to reconcile its lofty ideals with the harsh realities of the world. The symbol of San Francisco is a rising phoenix. I commence and close my thesis with that image.

Available for download on Monday, June 30, 2025