“Is it a disgrace to be born a Chinese?” (Chinese Immigration, Part 3)

The Tape Family, The Morning Call (San Francisco, CA), November 23, 1892.
(Library of Congress)

“You have expended a lot of the Public money foolishly, all because of a one poor little Child. Her playmates is all Caucasians, ever since she could toddle around. If she is good enough to play with them! Then is she not good enough to be in the same room and studie with them? You had better come and see for yourselves. See if the Tape’s is not same as other Caucasians, except in features. It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress so long as you know they Chinese. Then they are hated as one. There is not any right or justice for them.”

–Mary Tape

Among the many young girls who arrived in San Francisco in 1868, was one 11-year-old from Shanghai.  After five months in Chinatown, she was taken in by Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society on Franklin Street, where she was given the name Mary.

The following year, Chew Diep arrived from Taishan.  In 1875, he met Mary while he delivered milk for the Sterling family.  They married on November 16, and before long, Chew Diep changed his name to Joe Tape.  The Tapes’ daughter Mamie was born the following summer.  The Tapes would have three more children:  Frank, Emily, and Gertrude.  

The Tapes lived in the Black Point neighborhood, now called Cow Hollow, which was predominantly white.  Teen neighbor Florence Eveleth taught little Mamie and Frank reading and math.  But neither the Tapes’ affluence nor assimilation could protect them from discrimination.

Additional Resources:

“The 8-Year-Old Chinese-American Girl Who Helped Desegregate Schools” (History Channel)

“Before Brown v. Board of Education, There was Tape v. Hurley” (Library of Congress)

“In Pursuit of Equality: Separate is Not Equal” (Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America by Mae Ngai

“The Tapes of Russell Street” (Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association)

Unbound Voices: Chinese Women in San Francisco by Judy Yung

“We Have Always Lived as Americans” (The New York Historical Society)

“What a Chinese Girl Did,” The Morning Call, November 23, 1892, Page 12

“I thought I was his wife.” (Chinese Immigration, Part 2)

*This episode discusses child abuse, human trafficking, and prostitution.

A Mui Tsai in San Francisco (image credit: Stanford Special Collections / California State Library)

“I was nineteen when this man came to my mother and said that in America there was a great deal of gold.  Even if I just peeled potatoes there, he told my mother, I would earn seven or eight dollars a day, and if I was willing to do any work at all I would earn lots of money.  He was a laundryman, but said he earned plenty of money.  He was very nice to me, and my mother liked him, so my mother was glad to have me go with him as his wife.  I thought I was his wife, and was very grateful that he was taking me to such a grand, free country, where everyone was rich and happy.”

–Wong Ah So

While Chinese men flocked to “Gold Mountain,” many families in the “Celestial Empire” struggled for survival, and girls were the least valuable members.   Sometimes they were sold away, and ended up in the United States as prostitutes. But they found refuge in organizations like the Women’s Occidental Board of Missions, led by Donaldina Cameron.

Eventually, Chinese men were able to bring their wives, and San Francisco’s Chinatown became a community of families. The demands of home life kept working-class wives very busy. But middle-class Chinese women formed societies that gave them the opportunity to not only socialize, but develop leadership skills, and advocate for issues that were important to them, including suffrage.

Emma Leung and Clara Lee were the first Chinese women to register to vote in the US. (Also pictured, Tom Leung, Dr. Charles Lee, and Deputy County Clerk W.B. Smith)
(image credit: Oakland Tribune November 8, 1911)

Additional Reading:

Tye Leung and Charles Schulze, an Untold Angel Island Love Story

The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Daughters by Julia Siler

Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, Judy Yung

Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco

“The Chinese were in a pitiable condition …” (Chinese Immigration, Part 1)

Chinese Workers, 1800s
Image credit:  Modesto Art Museum

I ate wind and tasted waves for more than twenty days.

Fortunately, I arrived safely on the American continent.

I thought I could land in a few days.

How was I to know I would become a prisoner suffering in the wooden building?

The barbarians’ abuse is really difficult to take.

When my family’s circumstances stir my emotions, a double stream of tears flows.

I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon,

Thus sparing me this additional sorrow here.”

–Poem inscribed in Angel Island barracks wall

The story of large-scale Chinese immigration to the United States begins in the 1850s. Most came from Guangdong Province, wracked for decades by civil and economic unrest. Gam Saan, or “Gold Mountain,” held the promise of wealth that could enrich an entire village.

When the Gold Rush subsided, Chinese men found work on the Transcontinental Railroad. They would build 90% of the Central Pacific Railroad, laying track in record time. However, while the Chinese were initially heralded for their industry and efficiency, they would become targets of harassment and violence. In 1882, when Chinese immigrants were 0.21% of the population, Congress passed the Exclusion Act. From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station played an important role in the enforcement of the law. Poems inscribed into the barracks walls give us a glimpse into life for those waiting to learn their fates.

Additional Reading and Listening:

Angel Island Immigration Station (website)

Angel Island Poems read in Toishanese (YouTube)

Building the Transcontinental Railroad by Linda Thompson (for school-age readers)

The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon Chang

History that Doesn’t Suck Podcast Episode 85

Text of the Chinese Exclusion Act

“We were all of us children of polygamous parents.” (Elinore Rupert, Part 13)

Mormon pioneers at South Pass, Wyoming, about 1859
image credit:  Charles Roscoe Savage, Courtesy BYU

… when it became necessary for him to discard a wife it was a pretty hard question for him because a little child was coming to the second wife and he had nothing to provide for her with except what his first wife’s money paid for. The first wife said she would consent to him starting the second, if she filed on land and paid her back a small sum every year until it was all paid back. So he took the poor “second,” after formally renouncing her, and helped her to file on the land she now lives on. He built her a small cabin, and so she started her career as a “second.” I suppose the “first” thought she would be rid of the second, who had never really been welcome, although the Bishop could never have married a “second” without her consent.

At long last, we have reached the end of the Elinore Trail. It certainly has been educational!

In this final episode, Elinore gets an education in the Mormon practice of polygamy in the early 1900s. She also recounts her successes growing and raising food on her homestead. She definitely paints a rosy picture, rosier than the one we saw during the Women Homesteader’s episode. Was that Elinore having a positive attitude, applying a positive spin, or something else? Maybe we can just say, Elinore being Elinore.

Farewell Elinore!

“Your pork and beans must be out of a can.” (Elinore Rupert, Part 12)

Blazing campfire at night
Image credit: James Owen on Unsplash
I crossed a ravine with equal frequency, and all looked alike. It is not surprising that soon I could not guess where I was. We could turn back and retrace our tracks, but actual danger lay there; so it seemed wiser to push on, as there was, perhaps, no greater danger than discomfort ahead. The sun hung like a big red ball ready to drop into the hazy distance when we came clear of the buttes and down on to a broad plateau, on which grass grew plentifully. That encouraged me because the horses need not suffer, and if I could make the scanty remnant of our lunch do for the children’s supper and breakfast, we could camp in comfort, for we had blankets.

In today’s letter, Elinore sets out to hire some help, and ends up being a big help herself. She also educates Mrs. Coney about the proper cookware for a camp-fire breakfast. Rupert’s letters are in the public domain.

“…She gave him a dose of morphine and whiskey.” (Elinore Rupert, Part 11)

Sally Hemings’s Quarters (image credit: monticello.org)

Someone On The Internet said, “Studying history will sometimes make you feel extremely angry. If studying history always makes you feel proud and happy, you probably aren’t studying history.”

I must be doing it right!

I had forgotten that Elinore was born and raised in the antebellum South, but she reminded me with her Christmas letter and racist party “game.”   As I was trying to figure out a way out of recording it,  I remembered why the American Revolution became more interesting to me.  It was because I learned more about the Founding Fathers in their full humanity, and not as demigods in bronze and marble.  You’ll be glad to know that there are no demigods in this episode.  Only fallible human beings. 🙂

Additional Reading on the Founders, slavery, and the African Americans mentioned in the episode:

The Founding Fathers on Slavery (battlefields.org)

James Madison and Slavery (including Billey) (princeton.edu)

Thomas Jefferson and Slavery (monticello.org)

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (monticello.org)

James Hemings (chef) (monticello.org)

Benjamin Banneker (whitehousehistory.gov)

Letter from Benjamin Banneker to Thomas Jefferson (archives.gov)

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker (archives.gov)

Phillis Wheatley (poetryfoundation.org)

Phillis Wheatley and George Washington (gilderlherman.org) 

Letter from George Washington to Phillis Wheatley (loc.gov)

“The old sorrow is not so keen now.” (Elinore Rupert, Part 10)

It is true, I want a great many things I haven’t got, but I don’t want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine. I have my home among the blue mountains, my healthy, well-formed children, my clean, honest husband, my kind, gentle milk cows, my garden which I make myself. I have loads and loads of flowers which I tend myself. There are lots of chickens, turkeys, and pigs which are my own special care. I have some slow old gentle horses and an old wagon. I can load up the kiddies and go where I please any time. I have the best, kindest neighbors and I have my dear absent friends. Do you wonder I am so happy?

Elinore shares some of the personal joys and sorrows that she has experienced since moving to Wyoming. I appreciate Elinore’s attitude about it all. Even in the midst of heartbreak, there are always things for which we can be grateful.

Rupert’s letters are in the Public Domain.

“They told us the Indian ways were bad.” (US Indian Policy: Violence, Displacement, and Assimilation)

Pupils at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania, c. 1900 (public domain)

There were eight in our party of bronzed children who were going East with the missionaries. Among us were three young braves, two tall girls, and we three little ones, Judéwin, Thowin, and I. We had been very impatient to start on our journey to the Red Apple Country, which, we were told, lay a little beyond the great circular horizon of the Western prairie. Under a sky of rosy apples we dreamt of roaming as freely and happily as we had chased the cloud shadows on the Dakota plains. We had anticipated much pleasure from a ride on the iron horse, but the throngs of staring palefaces disturbed and troubled us … children who were no larger than I hung themselves upon the backs of their seats, with their bold white faces toward me. Sometimes they took their forefingers out of their mouths and pointed at my moccasined feet. Their mothers, instead of reproving such rude curiosity, looked closely at me, and attracted their children’s further notice to my blanket. This embarrassed me, and kept me constantly on the verge of tears.

“The School Days of an Indian Girl” by Zitkála-Šá

For decades, before they were forced onto reservations, Native Americans had friendly and even intimate contact with non-natives.  But as settlements increased, so did the violence, and death.  Eventually, the US government calculated that it was cheaper to kill the Indian way of life than to kill Indians.


“Allah-u-abha” by Roman Orona

“Prayers” by Darren Thompson

Further reading and listening:

Carlisle Indian School Research Podcast

Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations (Jacqueline Fear-Segal, Susan D. Rose)

“Indigenous People in Wyoming and the West” (wyohistory.org)

Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry H. Sibley listing the Dakota who were to be hanged, December 6, 1862

Letter by Captain Silas Soule to Major Edward W. Wynkoop describing Sand Creek atrocities (Scroll down the page for the letter.)

Life of George Bent: written from His Letters

Personal Stories from the US Dakota War of 1862

Stuff You Missed in History Class Podcast (Jim Thorpe)

Zitkála-Šá: Trailblazing American Indian Composer | Unladylike2020 | American Masters | PBS

“Horse-thieves and desperate men seemed too remote…” (Elinore Rupert, Part 9)

Image credit:  Adam Jahiel Photography

Elinore continues her awe-inspiring descriptions of the Wyoming frontier.  Her signature humor is also alive and well.  This time, Elinore gets a little taste of cowboy living, and of cackle-berries.   And though she doesn’t mention the race of the cowboys she meets, it is worth mentioning that at least one in five cowboys was African American.   Two of the most famous were Nat Love and Bass Reeves, but there were hundreds of other black men who made their living wrangling cattle on the American plains.

5 African American Cowboys Who Shaped the American West

African American Cowboys on the Western Frontier (Library of Congress)

Black Cowboys (Texas State Historical Association)

The True Story of the Black Cowboys of Philadelphia Depicted in Concrete Cowboy (Time Magazine)

Rupert’s letters are in the Public Domain.

“See that shack over yonder?” (Women Homesteaders)

“Miss Mary Longfellow holding down a claim west of Broken Bow, Nebraska
(image credit: nps.gov)

“In about a week we had a cabin ready to move into. It had a dirt floor and dirt roof, but I tacked muslin overhead and put down lots of hay and spread a rag carpet on the floor. I put the tool chest, the trunks, the goods box made into a cupboard, and the beds all around the wall to hold down the carpet, as there was nothing to tack it to. The beds had curtains and there was a curtained alcove between the beds that made a good dressing room. So we were real cozy and comfortable.”

–Emma Hill

Under the Homestead Act of 1862 and its revisions, over 1 million applicants received a plot of land from the Federal government.  Thousands of the homesteaders were women.   They were black and they were white.  Some were recent immigrants from Europe.   Some were looking for husbands, others had left husbands, or lost them to death, divorce, or desertion.  Quite a few had no interest at all in a husband.  But they all worked hard to “prove up” their homesteads.

And most of them realized that the land they were claiming had been home to Native people for centuries.

Further Listening and Reading:

Pre-Columbian Cultures and Civilizations, The History of North America Podcast

Women of the Frontier : 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, And Rabble-Rousers by Brandon Marie Miller

Before Wyoming: American Indian Geography and Trails

African American Homesteaders in the Great Plains

Journals, Diaries, and Letters Written by Women on the Oregon Trail 1836-1865

Land of The Burnt Thigh: A Lively Story of Women Homesteaders on the South Dakota Frontier by Edith E. Kohl

The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Mark Soldier Wolf: Northern Arapaho Past and Present