When the Rose Pak station in San Francisco Chinatown was being built, archaeologists uncovered a basement beneath the sidewalk at 1018 Stockton Street. Hidden there were treadle sewing machines from the 1870s that had been buried during the 1906 earthquake. These sewing machines were sealed in time, buried by fill as the streets were widened and new buildings were constructed on top of the rubble. Unearthing them today directly connects us to the past, to the specific history of this site, and the people that lived here. They help unveil a broader history of an industry that was largely responsible for shaping, supporting, and expanding San Francisco Chinatown into what it is today.
From Rust To Relic
In the late 1870s, a series of Chinese businesses operated at 1018 Stockton including cigar and garment factories and a lodging house. The garment factories operated until 1896 when the location became Wong Chan Hing & Co. The business sold sewing machines, spool cotton, silk, and other clothing manufacturing products. The sewing machines found by archaeologists in the basement may have been the store’s outdated inventory. Thanks to archaeology, those old sewing machines buried beneath earthquake debris, long rusted silent, are now important relics giving voice to the hundreds of Chinese residents who worked and lived at 1018 Stockton Street. Although we do not know each of their individual stories, together they bring to life the history of this site, this industry, and the broader Chinatown story.
19世紀70年代末，一系列的中國企業在Stockton1018號經營，包括雪茄廠、服裝廠和一個寄宿公寓。這些服裝廠一直經營到1896年，當時的廠址變成了Wong Chan Hing有限公司。該公司銷售縫紉機、線軸棉、絲綢和其他服裝製造產品。考古學家在地下室發現的縫紉機可能是這家商店過時的存貨。多虧了考古工作，那些被埋在地震廢墟下鏽跡斑斑的舊縫紉機，如今已成爲重要的文物，爲在Stockton街1018號工作和生活的數百名中國居民發聲。雖然我們不知道他們每一個人的故事，但他們把這個地方的歷史、這個行業和更廣泛的唐人街的故事帶到了生活中。
Chinese Seamstresses: It Was A Man’s World
San Francisco’s Chinatown holds the distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in the nation and largest enclave outside of China (Yung 2006:7). Its history begins not long after the fateful discovery of gold in the California hills in 1849. During the Gold Rush, young men flocked to America. Anti-Chinese sentiment took hold and continued in the mid-1850s and as yields from gold mines slowly decreased, miners began returning to San Francisco looking for work. Chinese laborers were unfairly blamed for the state of general unemployment.
One of the main industries that supported the hustle and bustle of 19th century Chinatown was the garment industry. Garment factories first emerged in San Francisco Chinatown in the 1860s. By 1880, 80% of shirt makers and more than 90% of undergarment makers in San Francisco were Chinese. Chinatown was unique because the Chinese “seamstresses” who worked in the garment factories were all men. Typical Victorian seamstresses at that time were female, but a lack of Chinese women combined with discriminatory laws and practices that forced the Chinese out of other industries such as gold mining, led to an all-male workforce. The sewing machines found in the basement of 1018 Stockton Street were likely used by these pioneering Chinese garment workers.
Chinatown’s early male garment workers realized the value of their skills. They banded together to form labor guilds, a practice that had been popular in China. These guilds were formed to provide job security, protection, decent working conditions, and higher wages. In addition to these goals, the guilds in San Francisco also aimed to protect its members from being taken advantage of, since many of them did not speak English. Some believed that the most important goal of the guilds was, “to protect their members from being wronged by white people”. Garment industry workers were highly skilled and very organized so their guilds grew quite powerful. They helped make the garment industry a huge success and were rewarded with job security and higher wages than most other Chinatown workers.
Underpaid And Overworked
By the early 1900s, Chinatown’s male garment workers were getting old. It was difficult to replace them as no young male laborers were being let into the country after the passing of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. However, Chinese merchants were still able to bring over their families. This created a new pool of cheap labor made up of immigrant women who spoke little to no English and had no other opportunities for work besides the garment industry. By the 1920s, Chinatown garment workers were almost all female. Their experience in the industry was very different from male workers. Women were not allowed to join labor guilds so they had no protection or bargaining power. They were paid less than men and were forced to work long hours under harsh conditions. In the meantime the San Francisco garment industry prospered on the backs of these underpaid and overworked female workers.
All She Did Was Sew
By the 1930s, the garment industry directly or indirectly affected more than half of the Chinatown community, making it one of the most important influences on the economy, character, and livelihood of San Francisco Chinatown. Growth continued and by the 1960s Chinatown factories produced about half of San Francisco’s clothing output. Those who lived and grew up there at that time remember a community in which everyone, or everyone’s mother, sewed. Mothers worked long hours at factories, came home to cook and take care of children, and then continued sewing at home late into the night. Babies were brought to the
factory while their mothers worked, young children played in and around factories after school, and older kids helped out at the workplace and at home. Sewing machines, factories, and mothers constantly working defined the experience of growing up in San Francisco Chinatown.
Organized labor has essentially been a part of the Chinatown garment industry since its origin, beginning with traditional all-male guilds. Later, attempts were made at unionizing the mostly female Chinatown garment workers. A Chinese branch of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (CLGWU) was established in 1937. In 1938, the CLGWU launched a strike against the National Dollar Store, owned by one of the nation’s wealthiest and powerful
Chinese businessmen. The strike lasted a record 105 days, the longest strike in San Francisco Chinatown garment industry history. Although the CLGWU eventually disbanded, their successful strike against the National Dollar Store helped prove the strength and power workers could wield when they banded together, and helped achieve better wages and conditions overall.
自唐人街的製衣業誕生以來，有組織的勞工就一直是其中的一部分，從全男性工會開始。後來，中國城的製衣工人大多是女性，她們試圖將這些工人組成工會。國際女製衣工人工會(CLGWU)的中國分會成立於1937年。1938年，CLGWU發起了一場針對National Dollar Store的罷工，持續了105天，是舊金山唐人街服裝業歷史上持續時間最長的罷工。儘管CLGWU最終解散了，但他們對National Dollar Store的成功罷工幫助他們獲得了更好的工資和整體條件，並證明了工人團結起來可以發揮力量和權力。