WOMEN IN CULTURAL WORK
The Eaton Sisters
Edith Maude Eaton (or Sui Sin Far) (1865-1914) and Winifred Eaton (or Onoto Watanna) (1875-1954) were the first known Chinese American women authors. They launched the field of Asian American literature.
Bi-racial sisters of Chinese-British descent, they both wrote during the second half of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century. Each took a pen name which identified them as Asian American. Edith wrote under the name Sui Sin Far and claimed her Chinese descent, while her sister Winifred, fearful of anti-Chinese discrimination, professionally identified herself as a Japanese American and wrote as Onoto Watanna.
Sui Sin Far’s powerful short stories of the difficult lives of Chinese immigrant women and the personal impact of anti-Chinese laws are collected in Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Stories. Onata Watanna may be best known for Miss Nume of Japan, as well as eleven other novels and Hollywood scripts that had mass popular appeal.
Both Sui Sin Far and Onato Watanna wrote openly about the lives of women, of race, of bi-racial lives, and of attitudes toward Asian and Asian American women. Their perspectives, based on personal experience of discrimination, displacement, and migration, undercut outsiders’ stereotypical portraits of Chinese and Japanese identity.
Sui Sin Far, likely the first published Chinese American woman journalist and author of short stories, used pointed irony to challenge racial stereotypes. 49