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Reviewed by:
  • From Slave Girls to Salvation: Gender, Race, and Victoria's Chinese Rescue Home, 1886–1923 by Shelly D. Ikebuchi
  • Sue Fawn Chung, professor emerita
From Slave Girls to Salvation: Gender, Race, and Victoria's Chinese Rescue Home, 1886–1923
Shelly D. Ikebuchi
Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2015
xii + 264 pp., $95.00 (cloth); $35.95 (paper)

The 1870s movement to eliminate Chinese prostitution in California inspired white missionaries in urban Chinatowns to establish rescue homes for girls. One of the first was Presbyterian Margaret Culbertson's Occidental Mission Home for Girls in San Francisco, later renamed Cameron House after the famous Donadina Cameron, Culbertson's successor. Others soon followed. Shelly D. Ikebuchi provides an in-depth study of the interplay of gender, race, class, and national and international implications by looking at a mission home for Asian women in British Columbia. Although this home was based in Victoria, it served Vancouver and its outlying areas and was similar to other late nineteenth-century Chinese missionary rescue homes.

In 1886 John Vrooman Gardiner and Reverend John Edward Starr of the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) were determined to save Chinese slave girls and indentured servants. To do so, Starr and Gardiner established the Chinese Rescue Home in Victoria. In 1888 they turned over control and management of the Home to the Woman's Missionary Society (WMS), a subordinate branch of the MMS, and thus empowered these white women politically, economically, and in their churches both nationally and internationally in a manner otherwise unattainable in the late nineteenth century. Each matron had her unique style, but all were controlling. Like those of Cameron House, the goals of the Home included the evangelization of Asian women and children, the teaching of English and white middle-class values, especially those centered around domesticity, family, and marriage and around the raising of funds and support for the WMS and mission work, especially female missionaries and teachers, at home and abroad through public relations activities and newsletters. However, due to racial prejudice and religious discrimination, converted Christian Asian females could never be regarded as assimilated into Canadian society and were permitted to perform missionary duties only in Asia and not in Canada.

Christian identity, aspirations, and practices were drilled into the minds of the Home's residents. In 1889 a local newspaper, the British Colonist, described the model resident of Victoria's Chinese Rescue Home as a young Chinese former slave girl/prostitute who spent two years in the Home and had been "civilized" through her training in domesticity and her newly acquired knowledge of "whiteness" and Christianity. She married her former lover in a ceremony at the Home because he could now afford to provide her with a European-style furnished house near a white neighborhood that allowed her to have her English friends over for tea (56). Presumably, the children resulting from the marriage would be raised with good Methodist values.

The first forty-six Chinese residents were rescued from prostitution or slavery, but over the next ten to fifteen years the Home included Japanese women who were not [End Page 123] regarded as prostitutes but who wanted to learn English and Western ways. These Japanese women wanted to gain a sense of belonging by having the Home members as their new "family"; have greater upward mobility socially and economically through marriage or working as servants in white households; or perhaps escape a difficult home situation, such as an abusive husband acquired through the Japanese "picture bride" system. Chinese women were in similar positions. In 1909 the Chinese Rescue Home's name changed to Oriental Home and School as the goals emphasized transformation and education and included children (but no boys over the age of ten or eleven). Although admission to the Home was supposedly voluntary, the fence around the Home was topped with barbed wire to keep the residents secluded. There were written reports of residents who attempted to escape from the facility.

Unfortunately, none of the residents left memoirs or any written records of their experience, but Ikebuchi examined archival materials from the Home, missionary societies, missionary newsletters, local and regional newspapers, court records, investigations by the Royal Commission...


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