Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Contested Childhoods: The Pacific Society for the Suppression of Vice vs. the WHMS Methodist Oriental Home, 1900-1903

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Contested Childhoods: The Pacific Society for the Suppression of Vice vs. the WHMS Methodist Oriental Home, 1900-1903

Article excerpt


Historical investigations of Protestant child rescuers in San Francisco Chinatown are not new, but surprisingly there are no studies of the Methodist women's work in the Chinese quarter, even though it actually predates by four years the well known Presbyterian Occidental Mission. (1) The purpose of this essay is therefore to investigate Methodist women's rescue work in Chinatown, specifically looking at two rescues undertaken by Deaconess Margarita Lake of the Methodist Episcopal Church's Oriental Home, showing how the politics of child rescue in early twentieth-century Chinatown were often complex--more complex than has generally been acknowledged by other analyses that have focused only upon the rescues of her contemporary, Donaldina Cameron of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission Home. (2)

The two cases discussed below are particularly interesting and unusual because two Caucasian child-rescuing groups are pitted against each other The Pacific Society for the Suppression of Vice/Pacific Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals, and the Methodist Oriental Bureau, which ran the Oriental Home. Both groups were involved in a two-year struggle for the guardianship of two Chinese girls, "Sau Chun" and "Ah Ying," and in the process of court battles, their differing views of child-rearing become evident. The Pacific Society for the Suppression of Vice was Roman Catholic in origin, and men filled all its leadership roles. William P. Sullivan, San Francisco Chief of Police who died in November 1901, was a former director of the Society The Oriental Bureau, on the other hand, was a Protestant organization run entirely by women. The Pacific Society preferred "placing out" as a solution to raising neglected, delinquent, or orphaned children; the Oriental Bureau preferred the more controlled environment of an asylum for its rescued children.

The two cases discussed below are made all the richer by the variety of sources open to critical analysis: newspaper articles, annual reports of the two child-saving societies, Methodist women's magazines, and unpublished documents preserved by descendants of Margarita Lake. (3)


The Methodist Episcopal Church's Oriental Home in San Francisco Chinatown had its origins in 1868, when the Reverend Otis Gibson, with his wife Eliza Chamberlain, was asked to establish a Chinese Domestic Mission in California. The Gibsons had been missionaries in Foochow, China, for ten years prior to moving to California and had been forced to return to the United States because of Eliza's poor health. A few months before the December 25, 1870 opening of their new Chinese Mission building at 916 Washington Street, the Gibsons and a small group of Methodist women met and formed the Woman's Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast to evangelize the Chinese women in Chinatown. Its central purpose was "to elevate and save heathen women, especially on these shores, and to raise funds for this work." (4) As a result of that meeting a rescue asylum was set aside on the top floor of the new Methodist Mission house, and within a year the Methodist women had their first "inmate."

The WMSPC functioned under the auspices of the MEC General Missionary Society for many years, sheltering trafficked Asian (Chinese and occasionally Japanese) women and girls, teaching them English and other cultural survival skills, and marrying them off to responsible Asian men. But in 1893, the WMSPC joined the ten-year-old MEC Woman's Home Missionary Society as its new "Oriental Bureau," and eight years later the Oriental Bureau built its own "Oriental Home for Chinese Women and Girls" at 912 Washington Street, just across Trenton Street from the original mission house. Both buildings were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the women and children of the Oriental Home were forced to take up temporary residence in Berkeley and Oakland until a new building opened in 1912 in San Francisco, at 940 Washington Street, on the site of Reverend Gibson's original Chinese Domestic Mission. …

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