More people are awakening to the fierce struggles for equality that extend beyond what’s taught in history class. In The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Julia Flynn Siler writes about the relatively uncharted subject of women who fought against sex trafficking in San Francisco, especially in the first hundred years of Chinese immigration (1848-1943). On Saturday, Siler discusses her meticulously researched and well-illustrated book at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St.).
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865 but had little effect on “the brazen practice” of auctioning Asian women on the docks of San Francisco, which thrived for years after the Civil War, she writes. By the 1870s the activity had moved to less conspicuous locations, but it continued into the 20th century. Siler’s book highlights feminists and abolitionists who, despite massive resistance from authorities, founded a rescue home in Chinatown to protect the trafficked Asian girls.
The women organized the refuge a full 15 years before the founding of Hull House (1889), the famous settlement house for European immigrants opened by Jane Addams in Chicago. That is, the efforts Siler recounts were among the earliest in the anti-trafficking movement. The book tells the story of women, immigration, and racism in a city fragmented by anti-immigrant sentiment (see the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) and nearly overrun with political corruption. The book is historically detailed and also has relevance now. In press materials, Siler notes, “Having explored the dark cellars where girls sometimes hid behind sacks of rice to elude traffickers, I can say it does feel like ghosts still live there.”
Siler is at Collected Works at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14; the event is free. For more information call 505-988-4226 or go to collectedworksbookstore.com.