A pioneering Presbyterian missionary abolitionist who contributed to fighting girls trade in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Donaldina Mackenzie Cameron was born on a sheep ranch in New Zealand to Scottish parents. The family migrated to California when Donaldina was two years old. When she was in her twenties, she was offered missionary work by the San Francisco based organization Woman’s Occidental Board of Foreign Missions. She went there to teach sewing and assist the director Margaret Culbertson. Five years later, Cameron was appointed as the superintendent of the home and served in that role for 34 years – until mandatory retirement.
The mission home was based on the fringe of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the main objective was to stop human trafficking from China. Cameron joined police raids, broke into brothels saving girls from prostitution and domestic slavery, fought for their custody in courts, and provided them with a home and educational programs. She was motivated by the agenda of converting the rescued girls into Christianity.
Donaldina Cameron became a living legend, credited with helping more than 2,000 Asian women who were smuggled into the US. When she was in her seventies, the mission home was renamed in her honor as “Cameron House”. Today it acts as a community center for Chinese-Americans. Cameron died at the age of 98. California legislature Assemblywoman March Fong Eu praised her in a memorial tribute as a “distinguished Californian.”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She was often threatened by the criminal organizations, and called by them “The White Devil”.
- She is also known in local history as “Chinatown’s Angry Angel”.
- She was twice engaged but never married.
- In 1977, artists Suzanne Lacy and Kathleen Chang created a performance under the title “The Life and Times of Donaldina Cameron”. It took place on a ferry to Angel Island, the historical point of entry for Asian immigrants in the San Francisco Bay.