History Lesson: Donaldina Cameron

One of my favorite heroines of all time is Donaldina Cameron.


See, nobody knows who Donaldina Cameron is. Nobody reads about her in history class.

That is depressing. Here you go!

(This is actually an adaptation of the commemorative speech I wrote for school, thus the at-times overly-dramatic language, and somewhat awkward sentence structure. Enjoy!)

Even though nobody now-a-days knows her name, to over three thousand Chinese women, kept against their will in the underground brothels of early 20th century (that means 1900s, NOT 2000s) San Francisco, Donaldina Cameron was a hero, a savior, and a mother.

Commonly referred to as the “Angry Angel of Chinatown” by her contemporaries, Cameron, a devout Presbyterian missionary, was famous for her daring night-time rescues of young Chinese girls, who had been lured to America by false promises of a better life. Instead, these women led wretched existences, enslaved and forced into prostitution.However daunting, Cameron was well up to the task; once she knew where the girls were imprisoned, nothing could stop her from jumping into a taxi, armed with a hatchet, a policeman, and a translator, and liberating her quarry.

For these girls, rescue meant more than the difference between freedom and servitude, or joy and despair. For these girls, rescue was all the difference between life and death, for they died in less than five years, succumbing under the combined effects of disease and abuse. In the capable hands of Donaldina Cameron, these girls were given new life; the chance to start over and make an honest living for themselves, rather than drudging under the degrading profession that lined the pockets of those who dealt in human souls.

More than a mere rescuer or adventurist, Donaldina Cameron was a mother to those she saved; after delivering them from the hands of their captors, Cameron provided these girls with a home; the Occidental Mission Home for Girls. There, the once-victims were given education, childcare, and the chance to make an honest living by the “Lo Mo,” or “Old Mother,” as the girls affectionately called her. Though Cameron was threatened with everything from legal attacks to dynamite by the girls’ would-be masters, she protected the little women she loved, just as a hen shelters her chickens in the presence of a snatching eagle, in utter disregard for her own safety. Many of the girls went on to find true love, love for the higher qualities that make a woman beautiful, rather than the physical attributes that made them a profitable import. Through Donaldina Cameron, these girls, their children, and their children’s children, went on to lead full and joyful lives which, in the days of their despair, might not have seemed possible.

In the annals of history, Donaldina Cameron, whose name is not recognized by spell-check, is largely forgotten. However, her legacy lives on in the Chinese American families she devoted her life’s work to. For them, she will ever be Lo Mo, Old Mother.

See? Isn’t she cool? Everyone knows all about Mother Teresa. Plenty of people know who Carry Nation was. Why don’t people ever talk about Donaldina Cameron?!?!

Oh well. Now you know!


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