Suffrage and Rescue Discussion

Suffrage and Rescue Discussion March, 1996


Query From Liz Pleck 01 March 1996

Were women rescue workers such as Donaldina Cameron involved in women's suffrage? Did they try to convey ideas about woman's suffrage to Chinese women in rescue homes?

*****[Editor's Note: According to Gunther Barth's entry in Notable American Women: The Modern Period, Donaldina MacKenzie Cameron served as superintendent of the Mission Home of the Women's Occidental Board of Foreign Missions in San Francisco from 1900 to 1934. Barth wrote that "she became a living legend as a crusader, and was credited with helping more than two thousand women and girls who had been smuggled into the United States from China" as slaves. See also Mildred Crowl Martin Chinatown's Angry Angel(Palo Alto,CA, Pacific Books, 1986, c.1977).--CM]

>From Patricia O'Flinn <> 04 March 1996

In the biographies of Donaldina Cameron that I have read--including Chinatown's Angry Angel--her emphasis seemed to be more on instilling good Christian virtues into the women--and girls--she rescued, rather than feminist/suffrage ideas. Girls and women brought to the Mission House were taught English and perhaps reading and writing--according to their situations--as well as introduced to Christianity and the Bible and cooking and cleaning and sewing.Donaldina Cameron believed in work. I don't know about any other rescue workers, but the impression I have of Donaldina Cameron was that she was so focused on the immediate practicalities of saving these women that theoretical feminism did not assume great proportion in her life.

>From Maria Elena Raymond 04 March 1996

I'm sure you'll get all kinds of helpful responses to your questions. This is what I understood from studying the Women's Occidental Boards in San Francisco: Margaret Culberson and Donaldina Cameron had the following as goals, generally in this order--depending on the condition of the woman/child rescued: Safe housing, food, immediate and/or long-term health care, clothing, attempting to reach family out of the country, education with not a little Christian ethic thrown in. I haven't read about attempts at suffrage education but that certainly doesn't mean it didn't happen. But there were so many other immediate concerns after a rescue I imagine suffrage would be way down the list.

Last year I read about a woman named Kristina Carlson who was, at that time, attempting to establish a safe house in Kathmandu for Nepalese girls, where they would receive care, education, and hopefully kept from sale to brothels in Bombay. The situation for these girls is exactly as for the Chinese who were sold to American brothels...only now there is AIDS to deal with. It might be an interesting item for your research if you could reach her and find out what her goals she has been successful in establishing the safe house. The last address I had for her was at the Bahini Foundation, c/o Stuart Perrin, 80 4th Ave, 4th floor, NY, 10003.

I have a question along these lines...Do we know if anyone in the US attempted to rescue African girls/women as they were brought into this country to be sold into slavery?

>From Mary Ann Irwin 04 March 1996

It's unlikely; although they themselves were often single women devoted to professional careers, middle-class American reformers like Donaldina Cameron held up the Victorian ideal of the "companionate marriage" to Mission Home inmates. Women who held to this Victorian ideal "gained affection and moral influence at the cost of legal and economic powerlessness." See Peggy Pascoe's study of San Francisco's Presbyterian[Chinese] Mission Home "Gender Systems in Conflict," Unequal Sisters, Ruiz and DuBois, 2d ed, p.141(also her Relations of Rescue, which reviews two other western missionary organizations(one for Native American woman and another for unwed mothers) and goes into much greater detail.