Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

10/1/2016 - 9/30/2017

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The White Devil's Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco's Chinatown

FAIN: FZ-250440-16

Julia Flynn Siler
Unaffiliated independent scholar

Focusing on the relationship between a white social reformer and a Chinese immigrant forced into slavery as a young girl, the book chronicles human trafficking in San Francisco's Chinatown as well as the broader history of Chinese immigration and exclusion in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Daughters of Joy is a narrative history of a struggle against sexual slavery in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Set in the underworld of San Francisco's Chinatown, this book will reveal the grim details and the evolution of this criminal practice. The story is told through a decades-long partnership between two women, Tien Wu, a Chinese woman who was sold into domestic servitude as a child, and Dolly Cameron, who came from a prominent Scottish family. This unlikely pair ran a rescue home in San Francisco called the Occidental Mission Home for Girls where they saved thousands of young Asian women from slavery, more than anyone else in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America. Based on extensive archival research, this book will explore a little-known aspect of the American experience and is intended for general readers. It will directly connect humanities scholarship, in the form of narrative history, to a contemporary issue: the modern fight against human trafficking.

Media Coverage

Kirkus Reviews: Starred review of The White Devil's Daughters (Review)
Publication: Kirkus Reviews
Date: 3/31/2019
Abstract: An eye-opening account of the valiant work of a handful of Christian women against the enslavement of Asian girls in San Francisco’s Chinatown from the mid-1870s well into the next century. In her latest impressive work of research and storytelling, San Francisco–based journalist and author Siler (Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America's First Imperial Adventure, 2012, etc.) delves vigorously into a shocking story of racism and oppression...Siler vividly portrays both the vibrant, violent milieu of Chinatown of the era—amid the fear and hatred of the Chinese by whites and the effects of laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—and the lives and dedication of the extraordinary women of the Mission House. An accessible, well-written, riveting tale of a dismal, little-known corner of American history.

Publisher's Weekly Review of The White Devil's Daughters (Review)
Publication: Publisher's Weekly
Date: 3/1/2019
Abstract: Siler (Lost Kingdom) vividly recounts a shocking episode from America’s past in this gripping history...This strong story will fascinate readers interested in the history of women, immigration, and racism.

Smithsonian Q&A: The Women Who Waged War Against Sex Trafficking in San Francisco (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Anna Diamond
Publication: Smithsonian Magazine
Date: 5/8/2019
Abstract: “The White Devil’s Daughters” examines the enslavement of Chinese women in the late-19th century and how it was defeated Read more: Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
URL: http://

KQED Radio: The Women Who Waged War Against Sex Trafficking in San Francisco (Media Coverage)
Publication: KQED's Forum program with Michael Krasny
Date: 5/13/2019
Abstract: KQED public radio live segment interviewing Julia Flynn Siler on her book, The White Devil's Daughters. This was a half-hour segment aired live at 10 a.m. and rebroadcast at 11 p.m.
URL: http://

SF Chronicle's Sunday Review: ‘White Devil’s Daughters’ excavates ghastly history of indentured Chinese women in SF, and the authority defiers who rescued them (Review)
Author(s): Anisse Gross
Publication: San Francisco Chronicle
Date: 5/19/2019
Abstract: "Meticulously researched and inspiring..." is how this lengthy review in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle describes the book. “The White Devil’s Daughters” is a reminder that our political gestures and small wins accumulate and create ripple effects in ways we cannot often measure.
URL: http://

Constant Wonder Radio: Fighting Slavery After the Civil War, in San Francisco's Chinatown? (Media Coverage)
Publication: Constant Wonder - live radio interview on BYUradio
Date: 5/15/2019
Abstract: "Fighting Slavery after the Civil War in San Francisco's Chinatown?" A live 20-minute radio interview with host Marcus Smith, broadcast on BYUradio and Sirius FM
URL: http://

Oakland Magazine: Heroes Emerge from the SF Chinatown Sex Trade (Review)
Publication: Oakland Magazine and East Bay News
Date: 8/19/2019
Abstract: A review of The White Devil's Daughters: "Intensely well-researched as was her first book (Lost Kingdom), the lives and activities of Cameron and Wu — early feminists, agents for change, civil rights activists, some men, and yes, women faithful to Christian or other religious beliefs and practices — are riveting and personal. Siler provides sweeping perspective on the era’s racism, immigration, and women’s position in society. She draws intriguing parallels between prostitution and marriage, establishing contrast between justice and the law but never allows facts to bog down the narrative. Photographs throughout the book offer vivid reproductions of San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. Even more striking are images of young girls made victims of sex trafficking. If there is a mandate delivered, it is to step up and make difference, to break the laws of convention, possiblly even break actual laws. The task is daunting — all the more reason to act."
URL: http://

Christian Science Monitor: Q&A with Julia Flynn Siler, author of The White Devil's Daughters (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Randy Dotinga
Publication: Christian Science Monitor
Date: 8/29/2019
Abstract: A Q&A about The White Devil's Daughters with Julia Flynn Siler
URL: http://

Mercury News: Siler's 'White Devil" was a rescuing angel for San Francisco's enslaved (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Georgia Rowe
Publication: The Mercury News
Date: 5/28/2019
Abstract: Newspaper feature profile on author Julia Flynn Siler and her book The White Devil's Daughters

The Wall Street Journal: ‘The White Devil’s Daughters’ Review: A Chinatown Safe House (Review)
Author(s): Maura Elizabeth Cunningham
Publication: The Wall Street Journal
Date: 6/7/2019
Abstract: China historian Maura Elizabeth Cunningham praises The White Devil's Daughters: "..smooth prose and vivid descriptions, as well as the numerous photographs reproduced throughout the book, create a compelling picture of life in the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco’s Chinatown."

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Five Hot Books by the National Book Review (Review)
Author(s): Elizabeth Taylor and Adam Cohen
Publication: Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Date: 6/7/2019
Abstract: "A wonderful storyteller, Siler places determined Dolly Cameron, leader of the Presbyterian Mission Home, and her assistant Tien Fuh Wu at the center of the struggle and brings to light a little-known chapter in U.S. history."

New York Times Book Review: Saving Girls From Slavery in San Francisco's Chinatown (Review)
Author(s): Gary Kamiya
Publication: The New York Times
Date: 6/23/2019
Abstract: “A solid introduction to an inspiring and, yes, heroic struggle against a barbaric practice . . . Siler has provided a usefully broad view of the fight against slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, one especially effective in giving voice to previously underappreciated figures.” —Gary Kamiya, The New York Times Book Review
URL: http://

"Think" program: "The Female Abolitionists of San Francisco's Chinatown" (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Host John McCaa
Publication: KERA, North Dallas public radio
Date: 7/22/2019
Abstract: North Texas Public Radio program "Think" hosted Julia Flynn Siler for an hour-long segment about The White Devil's Daughters

L.A. Times Op-ed: Asian women fought the West’s slave trade. And then they were written out of history. (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Julia Flynn Siler
Publication: Los Angeles Times
Date: 8/4/2019
Abstract: Op Ed: Asian women fought the West’s slave trade. And then they were written out of history.

BookPage: Trouble in the City by the Bay (Review)
Author(s): Keith Herrell
Publication: BookPage
Date: 5/20/2019
Abstract: Review of "The White Devil's Daughters" and David K. Randall's "Black Death in the Golden Gate" in BookPage
URL: http://

NPR'S Inflection Point interview (Media Coverage)
Publication: KALW/NPR/PRX
Date: 5/22/2019
Abstract: An hour-long radio interview with Lauren Schiller, host of the show "Inflection Point" broadcast on San Francisco's KALW and nationwide on NPR stations and PRX, as well as a podcast.

Historian Julia Flynn Siler Joins Gil Mansergh on Word By Word (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Gil Mansergh
Publication: Word by Word
Date: 5/23/2019
Abstract: An hour-long radio interview on the NPR show Word by Word with host Gil Mansergh, first broadcast on KRCB and available on PRX, NPR, and PRI.
URL: http://

Local News Matters: Author takes in-depth look at 19th century sex trafficking in Chinatown (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Sarah Pollock
Publication: Local News Matters
Date: 5/22/2019
Abstract: A Q&A with author Julia Flynn Siler about her new book, The White Devil's Daughters. Local News Matters is a non-profit news organization that supplies editorial content to 9 Bay Area counties.
URL: http://

Commonwealth Club video: Donaldina Cameron and the Occidental Mission Home (Media Coverage)
Publication: Commonwealth Club of California
Date: 5/28/2019
Abstract: A video recording of Julia Flynn Siler's discussion of The White Devil's Daughters with historian Helen Zia at the Commonwealth Club on May 14, 2019

Lit Hub: Five Books of Narrative History chosen by Julia Flynn Siler (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Jane Ciabattari
Publication: Lit Hub -- Book Marks column
Date: 5/28/2019
Abstract: Julia Flynn Siler interviewed by Jane Ciabattari on Lit Hub for the weekly column Book Marks, about five books of narrative history that influenced her.

Associated Products

The White Devil's Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco's Chinatown (Book)
Title: The White Devil's Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco's Chinatown
Author: Julia Flynn Siler
Abstract: A revelatory history of the trafficking of young Asian girls that flourished in San Francisco during the first hundred years of Chinese immigration (1848-1943) and an in-depth look at the "safe house" that became a refuge for those seeking their freedom
Year: 2019
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes

Unladylike 2020: PBS American Masters short documentary (Film/TV/Video Broadcast or Recording)
Title: Unladylike 2020: PBS American Masters short documentary
Writer: Sandra Rattley and Charlotte Mangin
Director: Charlotte Mangin
Abstract: Julia Flynn Siler was an on-air expert for two of the short documentaries about unsung American Women. The documentary on Tye Leung Schulze related directly to the NEH-supported book, The White Devil's Daughters. The other was on Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawaii, which grew out of the book, Lost Kingdom.
Year: 2020
Primary URL:
Secondary URL:
Access Model: open access
Format: Video
Format: Digital File
Format: Web