Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

The street of the slave girls.” Chinatown, San Francisco, between 1896 and 1906. This woman appears to be emptying slop buckets or garbage.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-G403-0043-A

The first Chinese American women had few opportunities for wage work. In many places where the Chinese were not allowed to own land, they became field or tenant farmers.

Some Chinese women were hired out as field hands, starting the early vineyards and orchards in the West. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, like other immigrant women from around the world, they entered the work force through the service sector, toiled as servants, and served as nannies.

They took in laundry, kept boarders, sewed and cooked for bachelors, grew bean sprouts in bathtubs, and raised chickens in the backyard.  Many early Chinese American women worked in family businesses.

Studio portrait of Mary Bong, called "China Mary" by her American neighbors, taken around 1900.
University of Washington LIbraries, Special Collections, UW6943

Mary Bong was once such woman. She was born in 1880 in China and settled in rugged Sitka, Alaska, where she learned English and Tlingit. She was an expert fisher-woman, hunter, and prospector. She operated restaurants, laundries, and farms. She also served as a midwife, nurse, and official matron at the federal jail in Sitka for 55 years. 35