A few weeks ago, I was asked by a producer at Wondery if I’d be interested in being interviewed for the podcast American History Tellers about Hawaii’s last queen. I hesitated at first because my book on Hawaii had been published more than a decade ago. Agreeing to the interview would mean that I’d have to give myself a crash refresher course on my own book.
History Written by the Victors….
For an example of history being written by the victors, consider the case of Jane Lathrop Stanford, the victim of one of California’s most puzzling unsolved murder mysteries.
As co-founder and primary benefactor of Stanford University, Jane died of strychnine poisoning in 1905 in Waikiki. For nearly a century, the fact of her murder was successfully covered up.
The key figure involved in that cover-up was the university’s first president, David Starr Jordan. He was the victor in shaping how history judged Jane’s contribution as a leading educational philanthropist over the next hundred years or so.
The Safe Place That Became Unsafe
Early on in the research for The White Devil’s Daughters, I learned about a horrific aftermath to the story I was writing. My focus was on a group of women residents and staffers of a historic safe house who fought sex slavery at the turn of the 20th century. One day, while sifting through case files with the home’s retired executive director, she suddenly turned to me and asked, do you know about Dick Wichman?
Remembering Judy Yung
Judy Yung’s death this month marks the passing of a gifted and generous scholar. Her groundbreaking work in the history of Asian American women paved the way for a new generation of thinkers and writers.
Along with fellow San Franciscans Him Mark Lai and the Philip P. Choy, Judy Yung made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the Asian American experience. Her focus was on women, a group that had been largely been overlooked by scholars. Judy died on December 14 at her home after a fall, at the age of 74.
Honoring Hawaii’s Queen
At a time when statues are toppling across the nation, one work of public art stands tall.
It is the eight-foot-tall bronze of Hawaii’s Queen Lili’uokalani, who faces the state Capitol in Honolulu. This beautifully rendered artwork, by the American realist sculptor Marianna Pineda, is even more powerful today than it was when it was erected in the 1980s.
If anything, this regal public monument become even more beloved over time. To understand why, watch this PBS American Masters short documentary on the Queen that’s just been released. It’s a wonderful and very moving.
Who Should California Honor?
Father Junipero Serra. Christopher Columbus. Sir Francis Drake. Even Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to the national anthem.
What do most of the statues being toppled across California have in common?
They’re figures from history who supported white supremacy. And they’re all men.
Women’s lives have long been overlooked by historians, especially the lives of women of color. But a new PBS project, UnladyLike2020, is producing 26 documentary shorts of unsung women heroes of American history.
Part of PBS’s American Masters series honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, just aired a film about Tye Leung Schulze. She was the first Chinese American woman to work for the U.S. Federal Government and an advocate for trafficked women. You can watch the film here.
“Are you wearing a mask…?”
Donaldina Cameron and Tien Fuh Wu, two of the women whose life stories I weave together in The White Devil’s Daughters, lived through the terrible flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed upwards of 50 million people worldwide.
Just as today’s Covid-19 pandemic has taken its steepest toll to date at nursing homes and other institutions, so did the so-called “Spanish Flu” sweep through the two homes for vulnerable girls and women that Cameron and Wu ran in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the homes was on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown and the other was in Oakland.
Update on My United Nations Trip….
March is Women’s History Month and I had planned to participate by telling the story of a group of pioneering women who fought human trafficking…but, alas, our panel at the U.N. Women’s Conference in New York was just cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus.
As part of a delegation of women to the United Nation’s CSW64, the Commission on the Status of Women. I was planning to take part in a panel to discuss the late 19th and early 20th century efforts to combat human trafficking detailed in my book, The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Against Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, on March 12 in New York City, as part of the parallel NGO CSW Forum.