Historical Saturday: Donaldina Cameron (1869 – 1968)

Donaldina Cameron waged a crusade against slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown during a time when most were turning a blind eye to such tings.   She dedicated herself to this cause and worked for 40 as the director of the Presbyterian Mission house.  Most of the over 2,00 women and young girls that she saved were being held as prostitutes against their will in brothels throughout Chinatown.   

Often she would charge forth with “a couple of policemen armed with axes and sledgehammers and an interpreter to locations in Chinatown where she had been tipped that a girl was being held against her will.  Employing the element of surprise, the group would break down doors if necessary to claim a usually frightened young woman, who likely as not had been hastily hidden away in a closet or under floor boards by her master.  If the girl’s keeper could not prove a filial relationship, the rescued girl would be taken back to the Mission’s home at 920 Sacramento Street.” –  Historic Walks in San Francisco

She was known as “Lo Mo or “The Mother.”  She cared and reached out a helping hand when many others just turned a blind eye.

It is easy to focus on the movers and shakers in history that created big buildings or built up huge businesses, but it is important to also remember those who worked in the trenches to relieve human suffering.  Donaldina Cameron did not make a lot of money in her lifetime, and she doesn’t have streets named after her, but her impact on San Francisco’s past and present is immeasurable.  

It may be a little cheesy, but Donaldina Cameron reminded me of one of my favorite poem which I added below:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

– Martin Niemoller

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