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Early Chinese Pioneers The Mission Home Women's Missionary Society New
Need Emerges
Oriental Home & School The Golden Door

The Early Chinese Pioneers

The early Chinese pioneers to America have a long and painful history. Unfortunately for the Chinese, local labor felt threatened by this influx of cheap immigrant labor, igniting a new hatred which often erupted into bloody riots. Public policy and activities of anti-Chinese organizations excluded, abused, vilified, and pushed the Chinese into enclosed ethnic enclaves. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made the Chinese the only ethnic group ever to have been specifically denied entrance into America.

In the late 19th century, Chinese-American society was for the most part a bachelor society. Many Chinese men came over strictly for economic betterment and not to settle permanently in America. Hence, many left their wives and families behind. Often, men did not have enough money or were restricted by law in sending for their wives. Thus, the Chinese women in California found themselves in a world of men. In 1852, there was only one female per 1,685 males. Within eighteen years, the ratio changed to one female per fourteen males.

There were some who saw a lucrative business opportunity and brought young Chinese women to California. Under the guise of reputable matchmakers, they recruited women from China, promising marriage to wealthy merchants in America. Others brought women from their families who could not afford to keep them. And still others simply abducted innocent women. Once here, these women were contracted into service. Coined the "slave trade," Chinese girls and women were sold into prostitution, marriage, and domestic service. It is estimated that prostitution employed 90% of all Chinese females who lived in San Francisco in the 1870s.

It is in this setting that the first Methodist mission for the Chinese was started.

The Mission Home- Early Methodist Mission  (go to top)

Gibson's Ministry
In response to the social upheaval and burgeoning Chinese population in San Francisco, the original Methodist mission was begun in 1868. A missionary who had spent a decade in Foochow, China, the Rev. Dr. Otis Gibson organized Sunday and evening schools for the Chinese throughout the Bay area. He based his mission in San Francisco's Chinatown at the Methodist Mission House on 916 Washington Street. Despite many setbacks and much intimidation, Gibson persevered believing, "If it is God, it will succeed."

Gum Moon's long history of serving women and children in distress began one night when a police officer and the African-American man who had rescued the drowning girl brought Jin Ho to the Mission Home. Under the impression that she was brought over to marry a merchant, Jin Ho was determined to kill herself when she discovered that she had instead been sold into prostitution. A few nights later, twelve year old Ah Tai came to seek help at the Mission. Troubled by the conditions he was beginning to see and understand, Dr. Gibson painted his doorbell white so that it would be easy to find and issued a call to the Methodist women of San Francisco.

The Women's Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast
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Dr. and Mrs. Gibson hoped for an enthusiastic response but were disappointed when only eleven women came. Hatred for the Chinese, deeply ingrained by now, prevented many from coming. Although few in number, these pioneering women had ample commitment to start the new enterprise. On October 29, 1870 they formed the Women's Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast to work among the slave girls in Chinatown. They planned rescue missions and sheltered girls on the third floor of the Mission Home. In 1893, they were able to buy their own home next door at 912 Washington.

Gibson noted the harsh conditions in which many of the Chinese girls entered the Mission: "In plying their vocation, if these girls fail to attract, or refuse to receive company and make money, the old mistress beats and pounds them with sticks of firewood...starves them, and torments them in every cruel way...Case after case of this kind has escaped...and found refuge in the Methodist Mission House. They have sometimes come with arms, legs, and body bruised, swollen and sore, from the inhuman treatment received."

The Oriental Home and School, as the home was called, was run for several years by this small band of women. After several efforts were made to have it formally recognized by the church, it was incorporated into the Women's Home Missionary Society. Organized by the Oriental Bureau of the Board of Home Missions, the Home witnessed hundreds of individual stories of distress and rescue.

A New Need Emerges  (go to top)

As the level of Chinese prostitution gradually declined in the late 1800s, another need surfaced among the Chinese female population. Traditionally devalued by Chinese custom, girls were often expendable in hard economic times. This situation created a population of abandoned Chinese girls and babies. The mission then directed its attention to the care and education of these orphans while continuing to help women in distress.

The missionaries gave shelter to those in need. They gave the orphaned girls an education and vocational training to reduce their dependency on owners. The missionaries also worked beyond the boundaries of the Home to advocate on behalf of the Chinese. Politicians were pressured to revoke local laws regarding slavery and prostitution. They argued in court for legal guardianship of the girls and against deportation for those they sheltered. For many years then, the Oriental Home sheltered abandoned children, rescued slave girls, and advocated in the legal system for the Chinese.

The Earthquake  (go to top)

On the morning of Wednesday, April 18, 1906, the great earthquake woke the city of San Francisco to its destruction. Although the tremors lasted only forty-seven seconds, fire raged afterward and burst water mains added to the devastation. The Mission Home and the Oriental Home perished along with the rest of the Old Chinatown. What happened to Gibson's mission with the Chinese laborers remains unknown as all its records were destroyed. The work of the Oriental Home and School, on the other hand, continued, though temporarily moved to the East Bay.

Although the building of the new Home was a first priority for the women, it was five years before construction was begun. It wasn't until June 20th of 1911 that the first cornerstone was laid. By Christmas that same year, the children were back in their own Home. Designed by the renowned architect Julia Morgan, the new building remains today on 940 Washington Street.

Excerpt from the journal of Carrie G. Davis, the Superintendent of the Oriental Home at the time of the earthquake.

It was "...a day never to be forgotten. Amidst the crashing of chimneys and cracking and tearing of walls and everything movable falling around us, we all escaped from the building without a scratch. As we reached the street and realized what we had escaped from, the 91st Psalm came to our remembrance: 'He shall cover thee with its feathers; and under His wings shalt thou take refuge.' Without food, but for a few crackers and oranges, we watched the fire devouring block after block until 8 P.M...48 women and children [were taken] to some part of the city beyond the fire...By daylight we heard that all the Mission houses were gone and all that part of the city.

"At 7 A.M. we started our march to the Ferry to try and get across the Bay if possible...Each one with a bundle, and with several babies in the was a weary party that reached Black Point at noon. Here we found most of the Chinese gathered. A strange Chinaman, knowing that we were from the Mission distributed a box of crackers among the children. These with a drink of water prepared for us for the remainder of our journey which now lay through the burning and burnt part of the city. The heat from the fire and sun was intense and many times different ones fell by the wayside. At 4 P.M. we reached the Ferry and it was with thankful hearts we sank on a seat on the boat.

"A braver band of children could not be found than they were that day, as they marched through the burning city. Not a child cried nor fretted, or complained. Yet there were little four year olds who walked all these weary miles, and the perspiration ran down their little red faces, burned with the excessive heat. 'The Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him' and I felt He was surely with us that day...All this made us thank God and take courage to go forward."

The Oriental Home and School  (go to top)

In its earlier years, the Oriental Home sheltered girls and housed a school. Chinese language, Christian education, and vocational skills were offered. In later years, it was a full-time orphanage for girls under the age of eighteen. Attending local public schools, the girls worked hard helping with the maintenance of the Home and Pre-Kindergarten Day School sponsored by the Home for the community.

Gum Moon- The Golden Door  (go to top)

The Home continued its work for Chinese children well through the 1930's until the need tapered off. But as in the past when one need ended, another presented itself. War in the Pacific was raging. Families fearing for their daughters sent them to America for education and safety. Since housing was nearly impossible to find, the Oriental Home became useful as a new residence for employed and student Chinese females. The large dormitories and classrooms were divided into single and double rooms. A new mission was born. With a new purpose, the Oriental Home and School was renamed Gum Moon, literally translating into Cantonese as the Golden Door. It was hoped that entry through the door would provide these women the possibility for a productive and happy life. While the women were becoming accustomed to the American way of life, they had a safe and affordable place to live. The need for affordable housing and resources in San Francisco continues to exist. Many women continue to find Gum Moon a home during life's transition times as it has been for the past fifty years.



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