Class, Gender, and Race: Chinese Servants in the North American West

Terry Abraham

A paper presented at the Joint Regional Conference Hawai'i/Pacific and Pacific Northwest Association for Asian American Studies, Honolulu, March 26, 1996; revised January 2013.


As she stepped off the brig Eagle from Hong Kong at the San Francisco wharf in 1848, returning missionary Charles Gillespie's servant was undoubtedly unaware of her singular position as the first Chinese servant on the West Coast of North America. (Wegars, Priscilla. "Besides Polly Bemis: Historical and Artifactual Evidence for Chinese Women in the West, 1848-1930," Hidden Heritage: Historical Archaeology of the Overseas Chinese, ed. by Priscilla Wegars. Amityville, Baywood, 1993. 230.) She would not have realized that her presence signaled a shift in the domestic labor market and that her sisters would not participate in the change. Instead, the many Chinese servants who followed her were almost entirely men, unlike the case on the East Coast where most servants were women. (Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 55.)

Domestic service in the nineteenth century changed because of industrialization. Previously, servants were drawn from nearby rural areas and were often distant relatives of their employers. Employment as a servant provided food and housing, if not a cash income, under the paternalistic (or, as some say, maternalistic) eye of a wealthy (or wealthier) patron. Servanthood, in the agrarian age, was barely a step up from slavery. (Rollins, Judith. Between Women: Domestics and their Employers. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1985. 7, 203.)

As industrialization progressed, the rising middle class and its aspirations, coupled with a decline in the number of agricultural workers, sparked an increase in the demand for and supply of domestic workers. There was a consequent erection of class barriers, a shift to working for wages, and change in the population of the servant class. Instead of poor displaced relatives, servants came from the class of poor displaced rural workers who were attracted to the cities seeking increased opportunities. As the supply of Caucasian rural expatriates declined, employers turned toward African-Americans and immigrants. In addition, the bulk of those becoming servants were female. (Rollins, Judith. Between Women: Domestics and their Employers. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1985. 31; Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 45.)

On the West Coast, the situation was complicated by the demographic forces resulting from the many gold rushes. In the West, labor was always scarce as every laborer mistakenly believed that work in the gold fields was more remunerative than any other kind. At the very least, the gold rushes drained off large numbers of workers who otherwise would have been filling jobs and building communities. There was also a resulting imbalance between the number of males and females, with females in decidedly shorter supply.

The shortage of labor for such tasks as building the transcontinental railroad meant that employers sought to import workers, either from the eastern coast or from across the Pacific. Coupled with outward propelling forces such as war, famine, and floods, southern China responded to the pull of work by sending laborers to western ports.

In accordance with Chinese custom, these immigrant laborers were almost entirely male; the women were expected to stay at home and sustain the husband's family. The demand for domestic labor eventually met the supply of Chinese workers, resulting in male Chinese laborers assuming the usually female role of domestic servant on the West Coast of the United States and Canada, despite efforts to recruit from traditional sources in the eastern and southern states. By 1870, seeking replacements for the Chinese, the San Francisco Elevator lamented the lack of African-American workers on the domestic scene. (Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 207.)

Domestic service involved cooking, cleaning, waiting table, laundry, child care, and the hundreds of other tasks that the primary caregiver in each home provided. Many households required servants simply because the amount of work was too much for any one person. In addition, social mores stressed the incapacity of adult women for domestic labor. The weak and wan dependent woman of popular literature could not be expected to carry and boil tubs of water to do the laundry every week. These kinds of jobs required sturdy immigrant women who didn't have "the vapors," or fainting spells. (Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 111, 120, 149.) In addition, the rich social life of upper and middle-class women required more "free" time than continual house-cleaning and cooking provided. Afternoon social calls, teas, receptions, and dinners were part of the life-style of the socially conscious. Florence Grohman, interviewing one "nice-looking girl," was surprised, after listing the servant's duties, to be asked, "What part of the work do you do?" Startled, she answered forthrightly, and oh-so-patronizingly, "I ha[ve] a great amount of needlework and letter writing, and many social duties and a great deal of necessary reading to get through. In fact, if [you] only le[ave] off being busy when I d[o], [you will] have a hard time." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 358.) Others had their doubts about this distribution of the work-load. One observer noted: "For what good purpose this assistance sets the women free is not easy to guess; rocking the chairs seems the most arduous duty in many Californian homes, and it is one which is faithfully carried out." (Shepherd, William. Prairie experiences in handling cattle and sheep. Freeport, Books for Libraries Press, [1971 reprint] 1885. 116-117.)

Into this economic niche resulting from overwhelming demographic, social, and political factors stepped the Chinese laborer. The Chinese were no more suited for domestic service in the West than were the Basque fishermen who became sheepherders there; this was just an artificial economic niche that circumstances made it possible for them to fill. Yet, they filled it in ways uniquely Chinese and -- as well -- uniquely western.

It is difficult to discuss the typical Chinese servant in the North American West in the latter half of the nineteenth century because there is little in the way of aggregate evidence to deduce commonalities. There is a quite a bit of anecdotal evidence but not much in the way of quantitative summary data. (In an 1868 statistical report approximately 7 per cent of the Chinese immigrants in California were domestic servants; cited in Tsai, Shih-shan. China and the Overseas Chinese in the United States, 1868-1911. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1983. 21.) In addition, it is useful to note that not all servants were always and forever servants. Gin Chow reported that after his arrival in southern California he first washed dishes in a French restaurant, and then went into domestic service for six years. Following that period he became a gardener. Eventually he bought land and became a farmer. (Gin Chow. Gin Chow's First Annual Almanac. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing, 1932. 29.) Ted Loy (Eng Moon Loy) started as cook on a Columbia River steamboat. He stopped at Lewiston, Idaho, at the end of the run from Portland, and joined the wealthy Vollmer family as houseboy. Within a few years he was in the restaurant business for good. (Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 113.) Wing Yee, on the other hand, began as a houseboy, then became a cook. He remained with the same family for many years, assuming greater responsibilities as general farm manager. He was encouraged to bring a wife from China, who became housekeeper in his place; and his employers built a home for his growing family next to the main house. (Wong, H.K. Gum Sahn Yum: Gold Mountain Men. n.p., n.p., 1987. 125-130.)

With that in mind, let us sketch in the experiences of a "typical" Chinese servant. Usually teen agers or younger when they arrived, most knew no English and had little idea of what to expect; many suffered extreme homesickness. Often labor contractors assigned them to specific jobs, and both the contractor and the employer expected them to learn on the job. If successful, they learned to cook and clean, acquired some English, and found a good home. The permanence of such a situation was not expected; and few were as fortunate as Wing Yee. Any surplus funds were mailed back to China to support the family remaining there or saved for a triumphant return to the ancestral village. Over time, and through careful management of their money, they moved on into other occupations such as restaurateur or laundryman. A successful servant could do well. Hang, cook for the Roe household in Montana, returned to China with the immense sum of $1200 in savings. (Roe, Frances. Army letters from an officer's wife, 1871-1888. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1909. 311.)

The employers of servants in the West were not enthusiastic about the choices presented to them. Catherine Hubback noted:

In this country of happy equality young women consider domestic service a disgrace, and contrive to make it such a grievance and mortification to their employers that were it not for China boys I don't know what we should do. Do our own work I suppose, which is not so bad where there are 2 or 3 women to help but comes uncomfortable on one, who has not been used to it. But at present there is no lack of Chinese as they come over in ship-loads. (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, June 23, 1872. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 19-20.)

While "white" servants were desired, they were next to unobtainable. Another woman wrote: "When I first went out to British Columbia with my husband, ...I do not think that there were more than three families in Victoria, the capital, employing white servants. These could not be obtained in the country, but had to be imported at their employer's expense from the old country. The white girls thus brought over seldom stayed in their places long, as they quickly married, or left to obtain higher wages." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 333.) Those who were fortunate enough to hire "white" labor displayed no little pride in their fortune. "If my girl [Bridget] were not the best natured in the world, she would be put out sometimes; but fortunately she never is under any circumstances. She is a treasure and worth her thirty-five dollars a month in this part of the world. Our neighbors have Chinamen and pay them thirty dollars. I would rather give five dollars more and have a good reliable woman, although the Chinamen make excellent servants, good cooks, and excellent washermen and ironers." (Allen, Mary Julia. Letter, March 15, 1868, [Camp Steele], San Juan Island, to Sister Carrie. Photocopy (of a typescript copy) in the Asian American Comparative Collection, Laboratory of Anthropology, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.) Employers saw the "ship loads" of Chinese as a specific solution to a specific problem.

Later, it was conveniently overlooked that, as one commentator noted, "...the cry against the Chinamen, because in family service they are underbidding white labor[,] can not be considered worthy of much attention, when it is known that there has never been a time in California when a wholesome, capable white person, willing to do house-work, could not readily find employment at better wages than they could command in the Eastern States for the same labor." (Gibson, Otis. The Chinese in America. Cincinnati, Hitchcock & Walden, 1877. 107.)

While domestic wages were higher in the West than in the East, the Chinese were able to compete almost entirely on price at first, not quality. (Wages in California in 1899 were estimated at $4.57 a week, Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 307; $30 a month was the rate on San Juan Island, Allen, Mary Julia. Letter, March 15, 1868, [Camp Steele], San Juan Island, to Sister Carrie. Photocopy (of a typescript copy) in the Asian American Comparative Collection, Laboratory of Anthropology, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho; $40 per month and room and board in Lewiston, Idaho, Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 113; $40-$75 per month, Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991; $40 per month, Donaldson, Thomas. Idaho of Yesterday. Caldwell 1941 p. 49; quoted by Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 132; $10 per week, Trull, Fern Coble. The history of the Chinese in Idaho from 1864 to 1910. MA thesis, University of Oregon, June 1946; $15-$25 per month, Gin Chow. Gin Chow's First Annual Almanac. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing, 1932. 29; $18-$30 per month, Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 349; $12-$30 per month, Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, September 23, 1872? Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 29; $10 per month (as opposed to $30-$90 for a "white" woman), Vernon, Di. "The Chinese as house servants." Good Housekeeping, 12(January 1891)20.) As one employer noted, "It is scarcely fair to compare poor John with the trim English maid in her cap and apron, who has been well trained in modern civilities as well as her duties, nor can his culinary productions compare with those of a finished European cook; but with the average plain cook and the inefficient housemaid the contrast would be all in his favour." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 333)

Over time, and through on-the-job training, the Chinese developed a reputation for quality service worth paying for. An unusual letter from a "white" domestic, printed in the newspaper, underscores her perception of the economic disadvantage.

What are the chances for getting employment in your city? The Chinese barbarians have captured Boise and will soon rule the whites. I would like to know if this is a free and independent country? If so, why should the Chinamen carry on their bull-dosing [sic] operations? I went to Boise city to try and get employment but the answer at each house was, "We've got a Chinaman." I inquired the amount of wages paid. The answer usually was $8 a week. I asked several of them what they would give a good cook and house keeper if they could get a white woman. The reply was about $4 a week. I left them disgusted, and subsequently met a friend, Mrs. ---. She wanted a girl if she could get one, having just discharged her Chinaman. I asked what she would pay a good cook. She said $3 per week; she said she had given her Chinaman $7, but he was much better than a white woman. I bade her good day, with a tear in my eye, wishing I was a Chinaman. (Idaho Avalanche (Silver City), March 31, 1877, as quoted in Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 130.)

Filling a vacant position was relatively easy. Grace Pfafflin noted that in Lewiston, Idaho, they recruited their Chinese help from local merchant "Quang Sing's voluntary employment bureau." (Pfafflin, Grace. "Pioneer Chinamen of Idaho." Seeing Idaho, 1:9(February 1938) 23. In one case, the employer placed a newspaper advertisement endorsing cook for a new position. Lewiston Northerner, 1:31(May 22, 1875)3, as quoted in Wegars, P. Chinese at the Confluence (unpublished manuscript).) Many cities had employment agencies, often run by entrepreneurial Chinese, that brokered opportunities and vacancies. ("Idaho Recorder on April 18 of 1894, further noted that a Chinese company called Fong Kee & Co. had opened an employment agency for Chinese cooks and laborers. [p.2,c.3]," as quoted in Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 130.) Selecting from the applicants was not without its perils.

As for engaging a boy, it would take too long to tell of all the little tricks practiced, the frauds perpetuated, the knaveries committed by the "officeman" and the boys he sends out to engage as servants. Some of them promise to come to work at a certain time, and then never appear, while the hapless housekeeper sits waiting at home for the boy that is not to come. They ask to see the kitchen, they put all the regulation questions as to the number in the family, the time for meals, the size of the wash, generally winding up with, "no make beds." If there is one thing above another that a Celestial seems to hate, it is to make a bed. The Chinese will take a place, representing themselves as finished cooks, and when the first attempt at a meal shows their ignorance of how to boil potatoes, or to light a fire, with a bland smile, John will say, "You teachee me then I sabe." (Vernon, Di. "The Chinese as house servants." Good Housekeeping, 12(January 1891)22.)

Mrs. Hubback acquired her cook through Samki, an employment agent. At one point, hearing strange voices in the kitchen, she found her cook and another Chinese who said:

[H]e "had come from Samki, you savez Samki, he say that man go back to Samki -- he no learn cook -- I come here, I learn cook, my broder he go to city, he go to Samki." Meanwhile Moon's face assumed a [frowning] look... & he said not a word. After a great deal of palaver & gibberish the other man was ejected, & Moon went & locked the door & then poured out a torrent of pidgeon English quite unintelligible. However when he had calmed a little, I made out that Samkee wants him to make cigar boxes -- "I no like make boxes -- I likee learn cook I no go" and he wants to stay here, but appears to be a good deal afraid tha[t] Samkee and an unknown but overwhelming force of Chinamen will come when I am out, & carry him away. If they come when I am at home, I am to say to them "Go [a]long, get out, get out, dam smart." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, February 9, 1873. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 42-43. There does not appear to be any connection with the prominent Sam Kee Company of Vancouver, B.C. See Yee, Paul. "Sam Kee: A Chinese Business in Early Vancouver." BC Studies 69-70 (Spring-Summer 1986)70-96; available at ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/download/1229/1273.)

Another woman advised that it was not necessary to "go to an intelligence office. Rather, you ask an interview with the best specimen of the sort you have seen in the houses of friends. There is a good chance that he will bring to you shortly after a man, the exact counterpart of himself, who he will call his 'cousin.'" (Faison, Jean. "The virtues of the Chinese servant." Good Housekeeping, 17(May 1896)279.) "Cousin" was shorthand for a clan relationship. (Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. The Chinese Experience in America. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1986. 46)

Lack of language ability hindered both sides of the relationship. The employer was not expected to learn Chinese and the Chinese were expected to learn English by osmosis. "The only boy I could get is a man, Moon, he calls himself, who has a silk tassel in his hair, & he not only knows very little cooking, but still less English. It is not easy to get on with no language in common, so as you say -- it is a trial -- I took him on trial, & I find him such." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, February 9, 1873. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 42-43.) Mrs. Hubback fired another servant for his lack of skill, "He knows so little English that I could not make him understand an abstract idea, he thought I was angry with him, & said pathetically 'Me go, you no likey Wan.' with his hand on his heart, & his diagonal eyes blinking narrowly." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, April 27 1873. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 44-45.)

Then as now, immigrant workers sought help learning the dominant language. Missionaries were eager to teach English as a way of spreading the gospel. Employers also mistakenly believed that Christian teachings would make the Chinese better servants. The Chinese responded in their own fashion.

All the Evangelical churches threw open their assembly rooms, offering to teach the heathen to read, in hopes that they might learn the A B C of the gospel. Nor were the heathen unwilling, and discriminating fellows that they were, crowded around the bright young girls whose zeal in the Master's service had led them to this path of duty. But ancient spinsters were rejected, with that lack of gallantry characteristic of Oriental nations. "Me no likee old one," was what each seeker after knowledge said. After a time, however, slowly but surely, it began to dawn upon the minds of some of these good people that the wily Chinese had simply used their Christian endeavors as a free day school and an intelligence office. (Vernon, Di. "The Chinese as house servants." Good Housekeeping, 12(January 1891)21.)

Note how the otherwise laudable effort to learn the dominant language and become socialized in the dominant culture is ridiculed and demeaned. Newspaper articles complained that the only result of such education was that the pupil would just quit and go "elsewhere for higher wages." ("Chinese Domestic Servants," Idaho Signal (Lewiston), 1:49(February 8, 1873)1, reprinted from the "S.F. Chronicle.") Mrs. Grohman found herself acting as teacher to her servant; in exchange for security she gave him lessons. "...I disliked being alone in the house during the long November evenings. Although I had many kind friends who took pity on my loneliness, very often I felt it would be more canny if Gee could be induced to stay in the house till nine or ten o'clock. He did not seem to like the idea at all when I suggested it, and nothing more was said about it for a few days. Then he came with a proposal; 'Missus Gloman, I velly solly you all alone evening. I stay till half-past nine or ten, but I like you teach me lead and write English; I get book. After work I come in? You tink so?'" (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 336-337.)

Learning English was one thing, learning to cook was another. Although some Chinese were reportedly trained in hotel kitchens before being sent to families in the hinterlands, most learned on the job. (Pfafflin, Grace. "Pioneer Chinamen of Idaho." Seeing Idaho, 1:9(February 1938) 23.) It was part of the price one paid to have inexpensive help. Catherine Hubback noted: "When I was your age I had little idea I should ever be teaching cooking to a China man in California." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, February 9, 1873. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 42-43.) Later, she added, "And I would much rather teach a China boy than an English girl even or Irish girl certainly. One never gets impertinence in words, & even if they are angry they only slam the door. They cannot speak well enough to be saucy." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, April 27, 1873. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 44-45.) Florence Grohman was forced to hire the cheapest of Chinese servants once, cheap by reason of inexperience.

One winter when I was in Victoria there was an unusual scarcity of Chinese servants, and I tried in vain to procure a suitable white girl. I at last engaged a small six-dollar boy. He could say "Yes," and "Boot," and "Knife." He knew absolutely nothing. When one has to train a boy like this, one recognises what it is not to have an European groundwork to begin on. The most elementary things must be taught from the beginning. He could not light a fire, he had never used a scrubbing brush, and he had not yet realised that empty saucepans left on a red-hot stove will burn, and that tin ones invariably melt. But once shown how to do anything, the boy, whom we called Charlie, not having been able to understand his real name, never forgot how to do it. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 349.)

Although quick to learn, the Chinese servant was often sufficiently uncomfortable with all the strange tasks he was called upon to perform that he learned not to venture too much initiative. The servant who tossed his master's prize limburger cheese into the river thinking it spoiled is but one example of the dangers of making assumptions in a different culture. (Pfafflin, Grace. "Pioneer Chinamen of Idaho." Seeing Idaho, 1:9(February 1938)23.) Florence Grohman sympathetically noted of her Chinese servant, "It is marvellous how he adapts himself so well to the many strange duties required of him." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 333.) Several women repeated tales of the hazards of rote learning. Mrs. Grohman reports one as a classic, probably apocryphal, story and adds her own account:

The mistress of this Chinaman is said to have shown her man how to make a cake; taking six eggs for this, she broke them one by one, in the orthodox manner, into a cup, and then pouring each into a basin. The third she came to was bad, so she threw it away, the like fate befell number four, and two more were taken to replace them. Next time the Chinaman was told to make a cake, he also took six eggs, the third and the fourth he threw away, although they were perfectly fresh, and he replaced them, as the mistress had done, from the egg basket from the store-room. Charlie's act was similar. One day I undertook to show him how to bake, and I had got as far as ten minutes' kneading of the dough out of the thirty required, when I suddenly remembered that my last bread had not been successful, because the oven had not heated properly. As this was probably owing to the stove pipe being full of soot, I determined to have it remedied at once, and, covering up the dough, I made the boy take down the stove pipe, clear out all the soot, and clean up the stove again, before proceeding with the bread making. When his turn came to make the bread, I went into the kitchen to watch him and see that all went well; everything was imitated exactly, when he suddenly stopped kneading, and said: "Ten minutes now," and, covering up the dough, disappeared to fetch bucket and broom for the cleaning of the stove pipe, which, of course, did not want doing again. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 350-351.)

The daughter of a mine superintendent in Park City, Utah, remembered: "Very, very early in my life we had Chinese servants in the home, and the first one had to be taught by Mother exactly how to cook each dish according to the taste of the family, and exactly how to do each act of housekeeping. The secret was to lay an accurate foundation psychologically, and then there would be no trouble. If John left, he would teach accurately his 'cousin' Tom, and when Tom left, he would introduce his 'cousin' Charlie to the mysteries. It was a sort of apostolic succession. And if one taught the first major domo and factotum but one little error by mistake, that little error traveled on ad infinitum as long as there were 'cousins' in succession in one's cuisine and menage." (M., D. M "Picturesque America," The Pacific, (November 1934) 135.)

Another explanation given is that the Chinese servant is unable "to unlearn. He learns with alacrity to cook new things or to cook old ones in new ways, but more he cannot do. If you find on second thought, for instance, that his recipe for mayonnaise calls for too much mustard you must learn to like some other dressing, for your cook, try as he may, cannot amend what is graven in his memory." (Faison, Jean. "The virtues of the Chinese servant." Good Housekeeping, 17(May 1896)280.)

Mrs. Hubback wrote of one, named On, that he "cooks very well, & boils mutton much better than Bohea did, because he knows it should not boil fast." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, September 23, 1872?. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fol 29.) She also praised his breakfasts: "hot rolls, beefsteak, tomatoes, corn & an omelette. I only ordered the steak & tomato sauce, the rest was voluntary with him." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, September 23, 1872?. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fol 29.) Florence Grohman complimented her cook: "He could cook fairly well, he could roast and boil, and make clear soup, good pastry, and mayonnaise sauce; everything devoid, however, of pepper and salt, as he carefully explained to me, 'That no matter, I put him on the table.' (Him meaning pepper and salt.)" (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 335.)

Not all Chinese servants were content with the new roles thrust upon them. In Lewiston, Idaho, as a young girl, Grace Pfafflin remembered their new cook plaintively wailing "Me wantee go back San Flan-cis-co." (Pfafflin, Grace. "Pioneer Chinamen of Idaho." Seeing Idaho, 1:9(February 1938) 23.) Florence Grohman recounts the story of a very young, very shy, servant: "Just before luncheon was to be announced, I became aware of a scuffle going on outside the door, and remonstrances being exchanged between the widow and the boy. 'Me no likey, me no likey,' he exclaimed, as the door opened suddenly and Sing was shoved into the room, the widow prompting him from behind. He spread out his hands, made an awkward bow, saying, 'Dinner he ready,' and then, ducking his head, turned tail and escaped out of the room from the widow's clutches. 'I am trying to teach him manners, but he has no savey,' explained the widow." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 334.) Later, he left the widow's employ because the daughter, collapsed on the floor in Victorian-era fainting spell, seemed to him afflicted by the devil. "No persuasion, not even extra dollars, would alter his decision, and for some days no Chinaman nor any other help could be procured," which meant that, with the widow ill as well, the lodger assumed all the household chores until a "white" woman servant was found. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 334.)

Another young man was also quite shy; too shy, she noted, "to become a satisfactory parlourmaid. At first he would deposit all the dishes that he brought from the kitchen on the hall table, announce their being there by a loud knock on the dining-room door, and before one could open it he had taken refuge in the kitchen. It was some time before he would remove the plates and wait at table, and if one had a guest of whom he felt in awe, he would return to his original methods, or, at best, put the whole trayful of things on the sideboard, and make his exit rapidly, not heeding any remonstrances from me or the boss." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 350.) "The boss" is the husband of the household.

On renting a house and assuming the previous Chinese servant, Mrs. Grohman found that he had set ideas about which chores were whose. "One day I found a broom and a dust-pan left in the drawing-room. On telling him to remove it, he said: 'O, I tink you sweep out dlawing-loom to-day, velly good.' I retorted that I thought it would be better if he swept it out. 'No, no, I no do that loom; missus she do him evely week; I no time.' He really seemed to be doing the work of three English servants, as he was laundress, as well as cook and housemaid; so I resolved to follow in his former mistress's footsteps." (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 335.) She undoubtedly showed more good humor about the situation than some other mistresses. As it was, she was not able to meet his standards:

I had vivid recollections of the housemaid's "doing" rooms at home, and of seeing all the furniture turned topsy-turvy into the passage, and tea-leaves being sprinkled over everything, and I was soon at work in a business-like fashion, with my dress pinned up and my apron on, when up came Gee with a clean duster. "Velly good, you tie him over your head, missus did." Accepting the suggestion, I then began to move the furniture, and sweep. Presently the door opened a little, Gee's head was inserted in the crack, and he watched me in silence as I continued to raise as much dust as possible, and pretended not to notice him. Then, after a few seconds, he exclaimed: "Missis Gloman, you go out walk, I tink."
"No time, Gee; what do you want?"
"I sweep this loom, you no can do him; my missus, she velly strong, she savey." Then with scorn he added: "You no know how, you give me bloom, you go to lunch with Missus Dlake." Then following his head into the room, he seized the broom, tied on the apron, and put the duster, which I had just relinquished, on to his head, and, thankful for the release, I acted on the suggestion, and went out to lunch with my friends. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 335-336.)

Frances Roe noted that with her new servant, after two years in his last position, "it was some time before I could convince him that this house was regulated my way and not hers." (Roe, Frances. Army letters from an officer's wife, 1871-1888. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1909. 290.) It was not a question of doing it his way at all.

Not all servants acceded to such changes gracefully. Quitting was always available as a means of expressing displeasure. Captain Conrad's wife lost her servant when she tried to tell him how to do laundry. (Roe, Frances. Army letters from an officer's wife, 1871-1888. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1909. 184; see also 231-232.)

The Chinese servants' lack of "savey" regarding Victorian manners was well known and adjusted to:

One gets accustomed to the funny way in which they invariably open a house door, only by an inch or two, when one calls, and stick out their heads and ask who you want and who you are. If they are uncertain as to whether their mistress is at home or not, they as often as not shut the door in one's face, leaving one on the doorstep while they go and inquire. I tried to correct this in Gee, but the result was not much better, he would throw the door wide open, and stand in the hall and shout for me to know if I were at home, and if I would see Mrs. So-and-so. Sometimes when their mistresses are out they don't think it worth while to answer the door at all, in which case one shoves one's cards under the crack of the door, lodges them on the handle, or puts them under the doormat. On Sunday afternoon every household is emptied of its Chinamen, for they all expect half a day off, and, leaving as soon as the mid-day meal is cleared away, often refuse to come back and get the supper, and do not appear again until Monday morning. Visitors on a Sunday afternoon expect the ladies of the house to prepare afternoon tea and supper, and to answer the door. As long as everyone understands this arrangement it is all right, but when strangers from the East or the Old Country arrive, such ways of roughing it in an otherwise civilised town, is [sic] apt to astonish them. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 351-352.)

If life with Chinese servants, or any servants, for that matter, was considered to be an adventure, it was clearly preferable to life without them. Mrs. Grohman's experience cleaning the drawing room is but one example. When her landlady was ill with bronchitis, Mrs. Grohman felt she had

no alternative but to initiate myself into the mysteries of cooking, making poultices, and brewing beef-tea, in fact, the duties of a general servant, plus those of a nurse. It was really a most exciting time, the anxiety with which one watched the boiling and the baking, the triumph one felt when any dish was absolutely cooked and served up, looking at all like the work of a professional cook; the delight when the fire did burn without any trouble, and the pride when the beef-tea was pronounced "the very thing" by the invalid, are all beyond description. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 335.)

And when the camp cook quit unexpectedly while out in the wilds of central British Columbia, she stepped in to fill the gap.

So I did the cooking -- quite easy in an ordinary house-hold but a great deal of ingenuity was required to make a variation in the meals. There was no store except our own, and one on the CPR but this was certainly not less than 100 miles away. I had to bake bread in a very tiny oven, so it had to be done three times a day for the very hungry people who came to eat.... There was breakfast at 7 -- and a hearty breakfast it was, too! -- to be got ready; at 4 they rush in for tea, and at 7, supper. I did not mind a bit doing the cooking, but as it was sometimes 80 degrees or 90 degrees in the shade, I got rather tired by the end of the day. ...During this rather harassing time between Chinamen, when I had a heavy day's cooking, to refresh ourselves Clare Drake and I would ride over to the lake and bathe, returning in time to make tea. (Grohman, Florence. "Story told of early days at Canal Flat." Lake Windermere Valley Echo, August 8, 1968. (clipping).)

During Chinese New Year festivities, the servants asked for and received time off. Since this, of course, was not when the Euroamericans celebrated New Year's, the lunar festivity was unlikely to be noted on their calendars, so it probably always took them by surprise. And at such times, the work load remained. "I was glad when the Chinese celebration of New Year was over. Jeek came back punctually on Tuesday evening, but it is hard work cleaning and bedmaking, altho' the worst of all is dishwashing. I don't know how one can help putting one's hands in greasy water, & mine have been rough & uncomfortable ever since. Yes we all agree dishwashing is the worst part of our boys going away -- but as the grocer's clerk said -- he found many ladies in the kitchen on those two mornings." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, February 22, 1874. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fols 56-57.)

While much of the late Victorian era social life existed only in the magazines and other taste-arbiters (how much attention do we pay to Vogue or even Harper's, today), it did seem that every home must have its Chinese servant. Not just in the provincial capitals such as Victoria, where Mrs. Grohman entertained in the grand manner, but even in remote mining towns in Idaho, and inland communities such as Boise, Walla Walla, and Lewiston. In mountainous Pierce, Idaho, for instance, in 1880, there were seven household cooks and three Chinese servants. (Stapp, Darby C. "The Documentary Record of an overseas Chinese Mining Camp." Hidden Heritage: Historical Archaeology of the Overseas Chinese, ed. by Priscilla Wegars. Amityville, Baywood, 1993. 15.) One woman remembered of Boise, "nearly everyone whom I knew had a Chinese cook, and usually he was not only the cook but generally house boy -- washing, ironing, and doing all of the heavy work. For those who could not afford Chinese help there were always squaws who were glad to do the washing and hard work." ("Boise in the Seventies was a Delightful, Gay City," Idaho Statesman, 23 July 1939, p. 6, as quoted in Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 128-129.) Another noted: "All the first families had them, and so did the young officers stationed at Boise Barracks." ("Dragon is Gone," undated Statesman clipping in ISHS vert. file, as quoted in Yu, Li-hua. Chinese Immigrants in Idaho. PhD dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 1991. 129.) It was not uncommon for military officers to have Chinese servants in the western posts, nor was it unknown for U.S. Navy vessels to have Chinese and Japanese servants. (Photographs of General O.O. Howard's Chinese servants, as presented by Donna Wells of Howard University, SAA annual meeting, Washington, DC, September 1995; Roe, Frances. Army letters from an officer's wife, 1871-1888. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1909; "Admiral Dewey did not hesitate, in his official report, to highly praise the Chinese servants employed on his ship." Lewiston Teller, 22(52):2, 16 September 1898.) In Walla Walla, in eastern Washington, "In those days anyone who aspired to be classed as one of the Nob Hill set simply had to have a Chinese cook." (Bennett, Robert. Walla Walla a town built to be a city: 1900-1910. v. 2 (np. 1982) 159; as quoted by Jewell, James Robinson. "Straw hat work force: The Chinese role in small town economies." Pacific Northwest Forum, Second Series, 6:1(Winter-Spring 1993) 47.) As James Robinson Jewell noted, "The resentment demonstrated against the Chinese domestics was in part a bitterness towards the lifestyle it took to employ them." (Jewell, James Robinson. "Straw hat work force: The Chinese role in small town economies." Pacific Northwest Forum, Second Series, 6:1(Winter-Spring 1993) 47.)

Anti-Chinese agitation, common throughout the West, made a complicated mistress-servant relationship even more difficult. In places where the Chinese were totally excluded, such as Wallace, Idaho, the families of means were forced to do without Chinese servants. (Wegars, Priscilla. "Entrepreneurs and `Wage Slaves': Their Relationship to Anti-Chinese Racism in Northern Idaho's Mining Labor Market, 1880-1910," in Racism and the Labour Market: Historical Studies, edited by Marcel van der Linden and Jan Lucassen. Peter Lang: Bern, 1995. 471-472.) In California, Catherine Hubback reported to her son in England:

I do not know what the persecution of the Chinese will end in. They have passed a decree to shave all their heads if committed to prison, and they are constantly committing them for all sorts of things which they don't notice in any other people. Then they lay heavy taxes on their laundries, they tried it 2 years ago, and the Chinese beat them in a suit at law. Now, they say they can't afford to go to law again, but shall wait till the proper representations are made by the Chinese authorities. They being quite aware that the tax is an infringement of their rights secured by treaties. Of course there is danger that the injustice here will be retaliated on Americans in China -- and I suppose the other states would not like to give up the Chinese trade, however the Californians may resolve to drive them out of the country. (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, May 21, 1876. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fol 89-90.)

She anticipated trouble on the upcoming Fourth of July remembering an alarming incident in England. Both events were assigned to the Irish:

Do you remember the regiment of Irish dragoons -- no volunteers, who wanted to pillage Bradford & put loaded cartridges in their rifles at a review, and then did set fire to the barracks at Portsmouth & plunder the officer's quarters. My fear is that the Irish here may do something of the sort against the Chinese. It would be a fine chance during the processions and tom-fooleries on the 4th when all the fire brigade will be out in the procession, and of course, out of the way of a fire in the Chinese quarter. A fire when everything is dry and the wind blowing as it always does in July, would be something serious. (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, May 21, 1876. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fol 91.)

Florence Grohman had a more personal experience in Victoria. Her servant, Gee, was personally threatened. She contacted the police and lodged a complaint but received little assistance. Personal action was necessary, and then Gee took steps himself.

The way some of the white "Hoodlums" of the town behaved to the Chinamen was disgraceful. They frightened my man so much, that, for some time he scarcely liked to go outside the gate to pass a large vacant place close to us which the boys of the town had made a playground of. One day they knocked him off the sidewalk, and at the same time cut his head so badly with a stone that he rushed home to me, and I had to plaster and bandage his head and eye. I telephoned at once to the police station. The conversation I had was somewhat characteristic of the happy-go-lucky colonial way of doing things.
"The boys on the green opposite my house attacked my Chinaman, who was going into town; they have knocked him about very badly. As they are still playing on the green the man is afraid to go out. Send a policeman up."
"Well, take the names of the boys and send them to us."
"I can't go out and catch them, that is your business."
"See if there ain't a policeman on Douglas-street, and put him on to them."
"I can't see one [on] my end of Douglas-street; what is the man to do?"
"Well, I guess, if he is scared he best stop at home; or you could walk down the street with him a bit, they won't go for him if you are there; we are too busy to look after every Chinaman that has a stone thrown at him."
Cool, but as there seemed that no more help was forthcoming, I did accompany Gee past the dangerous playground.
"I got something for boys now, when he come and throw stones at me," chuckled Gee, a day or two after this, and with this he produced from his wide sleeve a large iron crowbar. "I tuck him up my sleeve," he said; "boy come, I just knock him hard on head."
"Give it to me, Gee; where did you get it."
"I go hardware (ironmonger) store; man there he know me, he ask me what the matter with my head, I tell him all about boy, then he give me bar, he tell me that settle boy pletty soon."
"Yes, Gee, and that will settle you, too; for if it killed the boy you would be hanged."
I kept the bar, and returned it to the man at the hardware stores [sic], whose only excuse for having supplied him gratis with such a murderous weapon, was -- well, they all carry them. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 347-348.)

The language used to refer to the Chinese servants in contemporary newspaper accounts, magazines, books, even private letters, was, as was common at the time, emotionally charged and negative in tone. Frequent terms were "Chinaboy," "John," "Chinaman," "Celestials." (These terms were all used in Vernon, Di. "The Chinese as house servants." Good Housekeeping, 12(January 1891)20-22.) While these terms are rightly avoided today, because of the connotations which have accreted to them over the years, they do not necessarily reflect the whole of the relationship. Some, in spite of using the same racist terminology at times, defended them from such stereotyping. Mrs. Hubback wrote back to England that, "My school boys today, who last week told me 'their neighbor' meant one who lived next door, today remembered that it meant every one, except Chinese -- 'they being heathens,' and 'coming here and taking the work from white men' -- You may guess I gave them a sharp lecture, holding up the Chinese for filial duty &c &c -- and saying it was no wonder when Christian children set such bad examples that they continued heathen still." (Hubback, Catherine. Letter, Oakland, CA, July 14, 1872. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ms.Eng.lett.e.150.fol 22-23.) It is thus difficult to measure racist attitudes by a contemporary speaker's choice of terms. Even one writer, who widely and commonly used such terms in a single article about Chinese servants, could conclude "yet, as has so often been said, in many respects they are the best servants that we ever have had." (Vernon, Di. "The Chinese as house servants." Good Housekeeping, 12(January 1891)22.)

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the "Servant Problem" took up a great deal of the popular press' ink. (Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 223-265.) In the West, in particular, the availability of Chinese men as domestic servants put a unique twist on that query. Some reported having nothing but problems with their Chinese servants. They were "the most filthy, mendacious, thieving, unreliable class of house-servants in all the world." (Gibson, Otis. The Chinese in America. Cincinnati, Hitchcock & Walden, 1877. 103) Others found the Chinese servants to be no more nor less unsatisfactory than any other ethnic, racial, or economic group. (Gibson, Otis. The Chinese in America. Cincinnati, Hitchcock & Walden, 1877. 103; Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 333, 353.) Yet others were sure that the Chinese men were "the best." (Seldom mentioned in this context are the Confucian virtues demonstrated by Chinese servants. See, for instance, Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. The Chinese Experience in America. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1986. 35)

The Chinese filled an economic niche that few others were willing or able to fill. Of particular importance, is that, although male instead of female, the Chinese were permitted to assume the jobs of domestic service (including child-care--Gee offered to undertake child care for Florence Grohman's new-born but she decided to hire an English nurse. (Grohman, Florence. "The Yellow and White Agony: a chapter on Western Servants" in, Fifteen years' sport and life in the hunting grounds of western America and British Columbia. by W.A. Baillie-Grohman ; with a chapter by Mrs. Baillie-Grohman. London: Horace Cox, 1900. 337-338); packer Ah Choy took care of children in Lewiston between pack trips. (Trull, Fern Coble. The history of the Chinese in Idaho from 1864 to 1910. MA thesis, University of Oregon, June 1946. 26.), in part because they were ethnic minorities. The ethnic stereotyping endemic to domestic employers was extended to the Chinese. They were awarded characteristics that were ascribed to all servants and these were justified because they were considered native to the Chinese.

Employer suspicion and employee theft were translated into a racial characteristic: all Chinese or blacks or Irish were thieves. Quitting a position, the only way to improve conditions that was available to a servant, became a racial trait of disloyalty, and so on. It is remarkable how interchangeable were the employer's descriptions of the hereditary behavior of their servants. Indeed, while these descriptions provide us with very little information about race, they reveal a great deal about the uniformity of conditions and relationships in domestic service. (Katzman, David M. Seven days a week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. 222.)

The universal characteristics of servants, when ascribed specifically to the Chinese, must be viewed in the broader sense of the shared vision of servanthood. Attributes assigned to Chinese servants are not "Chinese" by nature, but are the product of a system that systematically demeans and patronizes domestic workers.

The presence of the 'inferior' domestic, an inferiority evidenced by the performance she is encouraged to execute and her acceptance of demeaning treatment, offers the employer justification for materially exploiting the domestic, ego enhancement as an individual, and a strengthening of the employer's class and racial identities. Even more important, such a presence supports the idea of unequal human worth: it suggests that there might be categories of people (the lower classes, people of color) who are inherently inferior to others (middle and upper classes, whites). And this idea provides ideological justification for a social system that institutionalizes inequality. (Rollins, Judith. Between Women: Domestics and their Employers. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1985. 203.)

The result for the Chinese, as it has been for other domestics, was that there was no escape from the roles assigned to them except when they stopped being domestics. Unlike other immigrant groups, Chinese laborers , by law and custom, generally could not bring wives here to establish families. Thus, they were unable to participate in what has been called one of the great "defining themes" of western history, that of "underclass exploitation followed by accommodation and finally assimilation." (Powell, Anne Elizabeth. Historic Preservation, 47:2(March/April 1995)29.) Nevertheless, many Chinese immigrants could rightfully be proud of their accomplishments as servants in Euroamerican households. Some, such as Ted Loy and Wing Lee, owed their later successes in the wider community to the skills they had perfected while adapting to an unfamiliar role within an alien culture.


A brief comment about the sources used in this essay may be of interest to those wishing to pursue this topic. In almost all cases, the personal narratives of employers and servants were discovered through extensive reading in primary sources; very little of it was indexed or categorized as relating to the role of Chinese as domestic servants. Much of it was located while researching other topics. Florence Grohman's observations on servants in British Columbia, entitled "The Yellow and White Agony: A Chapter on Western Servants," are appended to her husband's reminiscences on hunting in the West. Catherine Hubback's entertaining letters from Oakland to her family in Liverpool are at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Mary Julia Allen's letters to her sister from an army post in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound were pointed out to me by Priscilla Wegars who acquired a photocopy of a typescript for the Asian American Comparative Collection at the University of Idaho. Other reminiscences have appeared in small regional publications such as The Pacific and Seeing Idaho as well as in local newspapers. Such sources are difficult to identify, but rewarding when found. In addition, Good Housekeeping published articles on Chinese servants in 1891 and 1896.

There were more Chinese reminiscences available in English than I had first suspected. Some, such as Gin Chow's, were published in dialect by Euroamericans for their own purposes. Others, such as Wing Yee's, resulted from conscious oral history programs. And, too, the women who wrote of their experiences often included biographical details as recounted by their servants.

I would expect that someone will find a great deal of information in the manuscript census records on microfilm, in the immigration records at the regional archives branches, and, undoubtedly, in Chinese language sources.

All of this is meant to suggest that there is a substantial body of research material on this and related topics that remains to be examined and analyzed. This paper is intended only as guide for those who might seek to expand upon it in other regions and in other communities.


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CHSERVNT.HTM / March 1996; revised 2013 / tabraham@uidaho.edu