Monday, February 25, 2013


Another of my grandmother's famous cousins was DONALDINA CAMERON who was born in New Zealand. (Family had originally gone there as missionaries from Scotland).  At the age of two she emigrated to California with her parents, older brother, and four older sisters. In 1874, when Donaldina was five, her mother died. The family's ranch eventually failed and Donaldina's father supported his family by working for other ranchers. At nineteen, Donaldina was engaged, but for reasons unknown, did not marry. In 1895, she was persuaded by an old family friend to spend a year helping out at the Presbyterian Mission House in San Francisco's Chinatown. The acceptance of this offer was the turning point in Donaldina's life.

In 1895, she started working as a sewing teacher at the Occidental Mission Home for Girls, founded in 1874 by the Presbyterian Church. While working at the mission, she began to help the police in the rescue of women and girls held captive. With the death in 1897 of her mentor Margaret Culbertson, the mission's superintendent, Donaldina's responsibilities increased. In 1900, she became Superintendent of the Mission Home. She became known as "Lo Mo" or Beloved Mother to those she rescued, and "Fahn Quai", or White Devil, to those they were rescued from. She was also called the "Angel of Chinatown". ( I remember my grandmother saying the "White Angel").

Lo Mo with children
In April 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake and fire forced evacuation of the Mission Home. Realizing that the records that gave her guardianship over the young women had been left behind, Donaldina re-entered the burning building to retrieve them. She then led her wards across the bay, first to Marin County and then to Oakland. While the records were saved, the Mission Home itself was destroyed, one of many buildings dynamited to try to stop the spreading fire. The Mission Home was rebuilt in 1908 and remains standing today at 920 Sacramento Street. It was renamed Donaldina Cameron House in 1942 and is now a comprehensive family service agency, serving low-income and other Asian immigrants and families, many residing in Chinatown.

Donaldina also founded two homes for Chinese children who were orphans or the children of the rescued women. The Ming Quong Home for girls is today a part of Mills College in Oakland, California (a school family members attended).

Donaldina continued to fight for the freedom of Chinese girls and women in the courts, at the podium, and to perform rescues in towns across the country until her retirement in 1934. While she was by no means a lone force, Donaldina Cameron is credited with breaking the back of the Chinese slave trade in the U.S., and the rescue and education of nearly 3,000 girls.

After she retired, Donaldina Cameron moved to Palo Alto to be near family members. She died at age 98, on January 4, 1968. She is interred in Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles. I remember my grandmother telling me stories of her, but in my early youth one did not let children in on the harsh realities of life. One of my cousins remembers meeting her.

Mildred Crowl Martin: Chinatown's Angry Angel, The Story of Donaldina Cameron, 
(Palo Alto, California, Pacific Books, 1977)

                                Carol Green Wilson: Chinatown Quest,  (Stanford, 1931&1950)

Fierce Compassion: A Biography 
of Abolitionist Donaldina Cameron            
Kristin and Kathryn Wong 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment