*This episode discusses child abuse, human trafficking, and prostitution.
Girls in Chinese Methodist Episcopal Mission. [Standing, left to right] Ah Gum, Miss Lake, Ah Yeet, Yok Ying. [Seated, left to right] Won Cum, Ah So, Ah So.
(image credit: Online Archive of California)

“I was nineteen when this man came to my mother and said that in America there was a great deal of gold.  Even if I just peeled potatoes there, he told my mother, I would earn seven or eight dollars a day, and if I was willing to do any work at all I would earn lots of money.  He was a laundryman, but said he earned plenty of money.  He was very nice to me, and my mother liked him, so my mother was glad to have me go with him as his wife.  I thought I was his wife, and was very grateful that he was taking me to such a grand, free country, where everyone was rich and happy.”

–Wong Ah So

While Chinese men flocked to “Gold Mountain,” many families in the “Celestial Empire” struggled for survival, and girls were the least valuable members.   Sometimes they were sold away, and ended up in the United States as prostitutes. But they found refuge in organizations like the Women’s Occidental Board of Missions, led by Donaldina Cameron.

Eventually, Chinese men were able to bring their wives, and San Francisco’s Chinatown became a community of families. The demands of home life kept working-class wives very busy. But middle-class Chinese women formed societies that gave them the opportunity to not only socialize, but develop leadership skills, and advocate for issues that were important to them, including suffrage.

Emma Leung and Clara Lee were the first Chinese-American women to register to vote in the US. (Also pictured, Tom Leung, Dr. Charles Lee, and Deputy County Clerk W.B. Smith)
(image credit: Oakland Tribune November 8, 1911)

Additional Reading:

Tye Leung and Charles Schulze, an Untold Angel Island Love Story

The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Daughters by Julia Siler

Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, Judy Yung

Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco

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