Despair and Hope, Cooper Alley
During the early days of San Francisco, foul, dark Cooper Alley was the location of the windowless basement "hospital" where Chinese elderly women and sick prostitutes, of no further use to their tong slave-owners, were abandoned to die, either by starvation or by strangulation. While one of the narrowest alleys in Chinatown it was certainly one of the most infamous. However one woman fought against the Chinese prostitution trade.

In the 1880s Donaldina Cameron joined the Presbyterian Mission House, a social service agency and, at great peril to herself, began to lead small raiding parties into the heart of the tong slave operations. Armed with axes and sledgehammers she would uncover the secret trapdoors and hiding places that kept the girls and take them back to the Mission House on Sacramento Street. Over 40 years she faced the retaliation and death threats of the slave owners and is credited with rescuing more than 3,000 girls. The recovered girls were given a place to stay, language classes and taught practical skills. This gained her the nicknames 'Lo Mo' (The Mother) by her admirers and 'Fahn Quai' (White Devil) by the tongs. Cameron retired in the 1930s, by which time slavery had pretty much ended. She died in Palo Alto in 1968, never having married, and at the age of 98. Today the Presbyterian Mission House still serves the Chinatown community with a range of social services.
[ MAP F-15 ]


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