Cameron House, at 920 Sacramento Street in San Francisco, is famous as the place where thousands of vulnerable girls and women found their freedom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It opened its doors in 1874 and is the setting for my book, The White Devil’s Daughters.
But it was not the first organization to supporting trafficking survivors in Chinatown.
That honor goes to the Methodist Mission Home, now located a few blocks away at 940 Washington Street. It opened its top floor two years earlier, in 1870, to provide a refuge to Chinese girls and women who’d been trafficked into labor or sex slavery. Like Cameron House, the institution now known as Gum Moon Residence Hall & Asian Women’s Resource Center still provides services to vulnerable women.
Gum Moon recently marked its 150th anniversary with a short film. You can watch it here and it features David Lei, a historian and community activist, as well as Jeffrey Staley, who has written a deeply researched historical novel, titled Gum Moon, based in part on the experience of his wife’s grandmother, who was sold to a brothel keeper when she was two.
Both David and Jeff generously shared materials and their insights with me as I was researching The White Devil’s Daughters, a nonfiction account of the women who fought slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The key setting for my book is Cameron House, but Gum Moon and the Methodist missionaries who founded it also make cameo appearances.
Why did Cameron House, founded by Presbyterians, become famous while Gum Moon, founded by the much larger Protestant denomination of Methodists, recede into history? In part, because the long-time superintendent of 920 Sacramento Street, Donaldina Cameron, had a knack for publicity and fundraising, while Gum Moon suffered from management upheavals at the turn of the 20th century.
I spent a fascinating afternoon with David Lei and Jeff Staley, along with Chinatown Rotarians Vanita Louie (who co-produced the Gum Moon film along with Horatio Jung) at the home of Rose Chew, about eighteen months ago – before the film or either Jeff or my book was published. The subject? Gum Moon’s fascinating history. I just reconnected with Vanita in her role as the Chinatown Rotary Club’s webmaster.
I’m honored to have been invited to speak to her club on February 5th at a luncheon to be held at Cameron House. Open to the public for this occasion, this is a good chance to spend a visit 920 Sacramento Street. Meanwhile, Jeff Staley will be speaking at Pardee House in Oakland on Sunday, January 26th, and several descendants of Gum Moon residents will be joining him.
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