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San Francisco Landmark 44: Donaldina Cameron House 17 February 2004
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San Francisco Landmark #44
Donaldina Cameron House
920 Sacramento Street at Joice
Built 1908

In 1873, the Presbyterian Church opened the Occidental Mission House at 920 Sacramento Street to rescue Chinese girls and women from prostitution, sweatshops and domestic service. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese men from sending for their families or marrying a non-Chinese woman, resulted in a huge imbalance beweeen men and women in Chinatown.

In 1895, the young Donaldina Cameron from New Zealand began to teach sewing at the Mission Home. She soon learned to rescue girls in nighttime raids assisted by policemen with axes and sledgehammers and to provide them physical and legal protection from the Tongs who considered the girls to be their property. By 1900, Cameron was superintendent of Mission Home. To the Tongs she is Fahn Quai ( white devil) and to her girls, Lo Mo (old mother).

As Chinatown burned following the 1906 Earthquake, fireman dynamited the mission house in an unsucessful effort to create a fire break. The building was rebuilt in 1908 in the same location using bricks salvaged from the original building. Julia Morgan was the architect.

Cameron continued to defend the rights of Chinese immigrants until her retirement in 1934, but Congress did not repeal the Chinese Exclusionary Acts until 1943. That same year, all San Franciscans of Japanese ancestry were transported to remote internment camps such as Manzanar and Tule Lake.

Cameron died in Palo Alto in 1968.

Cameron House continues to serve Asian communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more about Donaldina Cameron and Cameron House at cameronhouse.org.

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