Unearthing the San Francisco Chinatown Garment Industry
Recovering archaeological material from San Francisco Chinatown is rare. There are few opportunities to excavate and a high rate of site disturbance or destruction. In 2015, while excavating for Chinatown’s new Rose Pak Station of the Central Subway Project, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency discovered a trove of historical artifacts buried underground at 1018 Stockton Street. The collection consisted of garment-industry related artifacts. These “needle-trade” relics began to tell a specific story about Chinatown, immigration, early labor unions, and ultimately community identity in relation to globalization.
Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA)
Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)
從三藩市唐人街出土的文物很少見。現場的干擾或破壞率很高導致發掘的機會很少。 2015 年，三藩市交通局為中央地鐵項目的唐人街新白蘭站進行挖掘時，在 Stockton街 1018 號地下發現了一批歷史文物。 該系列包括與服裝行業相關的手工藝品。 這些“縫紉业”文物開始講述一個關於唐人街、移民、早期工會以及最終與全球化相關的社區認同的具體故事。
人類學研究中，Sonoma州立大學 & 三藩市交通局（SFMTA）
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.
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.
Above: Mar So, 1960s.
Right: Clark’s Spool Cotton advertisement, late 19th century, Courtesy: CHSA Archives Daniel K.E. Ching Collection
三藩市的唐人街是美國最古老的唐人街，也是中國以外最大的聚居地（Yung 2006:7）。它的歷史起源於1849年在加利福尼亞山區發現黃金之後不久。在淘金熱潮期間，年輕人湧向美國。反華情緒在 1850 年代中期持續存在。隨著金礦產量的緩慢下降，礦工們開始返回三藩市尋找工作。中國勞工被不公平地歸咎為導致普遍失業狀況的原因。
承蒙：CHSA檔案 Daniel K.E. Ching 收藏品
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.
Mission school boys learning to sew, late 19th century.
Chinese Historical Society of America Archives Daniel K.E. Ching Collection
Top right: Gam Yee Hong, 4 ft. tall sign board (Kum Yee Tong).
Middle left: Park Hong Ng, 1920s. Ng immigrated from Taishan to San Francisco in 1923 as a merchant’s son. He chose to work as a sewing machine operator and became a member of the garment workers guild.
Note the tie and shirt attire dress code of male garment workers in the 1920s. This population of male sewers retired and the generation passed.
Males continued to work in the needle trade in smaller numbers, and demand for sewers was filled by second generation Chinese American born and incoming immigrant women.
History & Perspectives, 2008, Labor and San Francisco’s Garment Industry Chinese Historical Society of America
Image courtesy: Bessie Ng
美國華人曆史協會檔案 Daniel K.E. Ching 收藏品
右上：Gam Yee Hong，4 英尺高的招牌（錦衣堂）。
左邊中間：Park Hong Ng，1920 年。 Ng於 1923 年作為商人的兒子從台山移民到三藩市。 他選擇當縫紉機操作員，並成為製衣業工人公會的一員。
請注意 1920 年男性製衣業工人的領帶和襯衫著裝規範。 這批男性裁縫師退休了，這個時代過去了。
History & Perspectives，2008 年，工會和三藩市製衣業
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.
Manufacturing clothing labels
Courtesy: Warren Mar
She Sews, 1977, Nancy Hom, artist, signed by Stephanie Love, 1980. Courtesy: Katie Quan, activist.
Garment workers, 1950s
Courtesy: Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University
1977年，她在車衣服，畫家: Nancy Hom, 1980年由Stephanie Love 親筆簽名
承蒙活躍人士： Katie Quan
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.
Left top: Lena Chou
Right: Singer Buttonhole maker, model 71-1, 1911.
Left bottom and all center: Clothing manufacturing labels, 1990-2005.
Courtesy: Warren Mar
Rose Leung, seamstress, Henry Ow Sewing Factory, San Francisco, 1950s, Courtesy: Warren Mar, Mar So.
The Factory – a video of a home based sewing factory in
San Francisco, California,1960s. Soundtrack: Take Five, Dave Brubeck.
女裁縫 Rose Leung 在1950年代三藩市 Henry Ow 製衣廠
承蒙：Warren Mar, Mar So
The Factory – 一個家庭製衣廠的視頻
20 世紀 60 年代，加州三藩市。 原聲帶： Take Five, Dave Brubeck.
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.
Union flyer: International Women’s Clothing and Sewing Union & Local No. 341
Chinese Branch, 1939.
Source: Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University
Partial translation for flyer, left:
We have a new hope for 1939.
Joint Solute from International Women’s Clothing and Sewing Union & No. 341 Chinese Branch.
Drum frequently urges the end of the dying winter, and the new year is coming.
Our Branch has been self-organized for more than a year. During the time, we demanded to increase wages, improve benefits and we went on strike. Fortunately, our workers are united and work together. The material and spiritual support requested by the Union was not restored until we took 105 days of long-term struggle, plus the sympathy and support of workers from the…
Partial translation for the flyer, right.
When asked about the time for treatment, we not only failed to get the sympathy and consent from the employer, but the employer also showed his hideous appearance and performed his dirty tricks. In reality, there is nothing to deal with our Branch but only brush and play with us.
For example, in one hand the employer recognized our Union and negotiated the contract, while in another hand he changed the name of the factory and presenting the new name at the factory entrance. He created various excuses, and avoided negotiating with the Union. The employer also…
Union flyer: IWGU & Local341 Chinese
Branch 720 Washington Street, Call to unite, 1938
Source: Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University
自從製衣業在唐人埠誕生以來，勞工組織便成為其中的一部分，從全男班的工會開始，以致後來慢慢演變到試圖團結唐人埠製衣業的女工，於1937年終於成立了國際婦女製衣工人公會的華人分會(CLGWU)。在1938年, CLGWU發動了一次為期一百零五日的罷工行動，抗議National Dollar Store，這是三藩市唐人埠製衣業歷史上最長久的罷工。雖然這次CLGWU的罷工最終都解散了，但是她們成功對抗了National Dollar Store，令到她們能夠得到較高的工資和較佳的整體工作條件，同時證明了工人團結起來可以發揮強大的力量。
工會傳單：IWGU & 地點 341號 華人分會
720 Washington 街，號召團結，1938年
Site of the Rose Pak Chinatown Branch of the Central Subway Station.
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.
Wong Chan Hing’s Wheeler & Wilson business card, 1895. The following year the business moved next door to 1018 Stockton.
Source: National Archives, San Francisco
到了1870年代末期，有一系列的華人企業都在 Stockton街1018 號營運，包括有雪茄廠、 製衣廠和一所公寓。這些製衣廠一直經營到 1896 年，直至廠址變成了 Wong Chan Hing 公司。該店鋪售賣衣車、線軸棉、絲綢及有關製造服裝的其他物品。考古學家在地下室發現的衣車可能就是這家店鋪過時的存貨。承蒙考古工作，那些舊衣車在地震後，長期被覆蓋在瓦礫堆中，如今已成爲重要的歷史文物，並作爲舊日於Stockton街 1018 號數百名工人和居民的喉舌。雖然我們不知道他們每個人的個人故事，但是他們共同編織了這個地方、這個行業、和唐人埠更廣泛的故事。