Does the name Donaldina Cameron ring a bell for you? It didn’t for me, until I read this terrific novel, The Paper Daughters of Chinatown, by Heather B. Moore. Donaldina Cameron is called “Dolly” in the book. She’s also called “Fahn Quai,” which means “White Devil” because of her work with young Chinese girls and women who are living in slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The story opens with Dolly arriving at the Occidental Mission Home for Girls in San Francisco to teach Chinese girls and women who have been rescued from slavery. Dolly is unsure of herself in her new role and it’s a pleasure to watch her grow over the years into a confident, even bold caregiver who is passionately committed to the welfare of the girls and young women in her care.
It’s always exciting to discover a time period and events in history that are new-to-you, and that was the case for me in reading this book. I learned so much about San Francisco and especially the Chinatown district. I learned a lot about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and also about the resulting slave trade and how that functioned between China and the US. It’s a horrifying but fascinating look into our nation’s history.
Dolly is a very sympathetic character and as a reader, I had to admire her courage and passion to help women who entered the United States under such terrible circumstances. If you enjoy reading the book, you will probably want to research Dolly Cameron the way I did. You can start with this article here.