The violent articulation of Chinese otherness and interracial sexuality in the U.S. Midwest, 1885-1889

‘Chinese Demons’: the violent articulation of Chinese otherness and interracial sexuality in the U.S. Midwest, 1885-1889

Victor Jew

By the evening of Wednesday, March 6, 1889, many residents of the neighborhoods bordering Grand Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin suspected something was afoot. By the next morning, numerous persons were convinced that something was wrong. One such person was Richard Whitehead, the Superintendent of the Wisconsin Humane Society. Through the night of March 6, 1889, Superintendent Whitehead thought his worst fears were confirmed when he witnessed the same drama enacted in many households: girls ranging in age from 8 to 12, collapsing and crying hysterically, their mothers distraught, their fathers threatening murder. Meanwhile, in the state capital of Madison, the local newspaper reported other strange stories: peculiar men whom neighbors did not recognize were suddenly remembered as walking Milwaukee’s streets, strangers for whom no one could explain whence they came nor where they mysteriously disappeared.

Before the evening was over on Thursday, March 7, a number of persons living on Grand Avenue, Fifth Street, Fourth Street, and in the Third Ward needed no further proof that the climate in Cream City (1) had turned dangerously angry and ugly against them. One person received a threatening letter that night, and before a week had past, would find himself a prisoner within his own place of business. Indeed, within five days after March 6, a frightening figure appeared at Joseph Caspari’s saloon on Chestnut Street. Hanging from a death-dealing height, dressed in blue, the face an ashen white, the figure seemed to augur worst times ahead.

One of the local newspapers reported that people shuddered when they saw the shape of what looked like a man lynched in front of Caspari’s: the tell-tale noose around the collar and the body hoisted like a trophy–or a warning. Upon closer inspection, however, the hanged body was actually an effigy, a likeness dressed up in the clothing so often worn by those who now found themselves besieged in Wisconsin. The lynched figure–a stuffed together apparition–was meant to resemble a Chinese man. Stretching across four days, Milwaukee saw up to 3,000 of its male denizens and citizens partake in a mounting fury of anti-Chinese excitement. Over those four days, white Euro-American males would congregate at the City Hall and scream “lynch ’em,” “hang ’em,” and “scald them”; march in protest against the Chinese presence; and eventually spend one day and one night smashing the windows of laundries and chasing and threatening whomever might look Chinese.

Anti-Chinese riots were not uncommon in the 1880s. As will be shown, that decade was the bloody era of mass anti-Asian violence. What distinguished Milwaukee was its regional difference: the “sinophobic” events on Lake Michigan’s shore were the only instance of such occurrences in Northern states east of the Rocky Mountains. (2) Moreover, Milwaukee’s anti-Chinese moment culminated a number of simmering developments that stemmed from both local and national trends. These tendencies sought to discipline unruly elements in the increasingly disorderly American city of the late nineteenth century. In doing so, they brought into intersection the larger uncontrollable elements of race, gender, and sexuality. This article will recover the Milwaukee incident and highlight the manner of that intersection. In the case of “Cream City,” it was a three-way crash that climaxed in a wreck of violence and scandal.

To Asian Americanists and 19th century U.S. historians, Chinese-targeted violence on the shores of Lake Michigan is “news.” Historians are more familiar with the acts committed in Denver, Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, and Rock Springs, Wyoming. (3) Indeed, the anti-Chinese violence that occurred after the Civil War is always assumed to be a “Western” phenomenon. From the 1850s to 1908, recorded instances of that anti-Chinese violence numbered 153. These outbreaks tolled the following human costs: 143 Chinese murdered and 10,525 displaced from their homes and businesses. The peak years of this violence were the 1880s, the years of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and the onset of its regime of ever harsher amendments. (4) (Together, those laws constituted a set of Congressional acts that “suspended” Chinese laborer migration, denied naturalization to Chinese immigrants, and imposed movement controls upon various Chinese for sixty years.) The 1880s witnessed ninety-one instances of anti-Chinese violence, the years 1885 and 1886 forming a mid-point apex with 30 and 43 events apiece. (5) Milwaukee would share the dubious distinction of being one of two sites of anti-Chinese violence to end the decade; the other outbreak occurred in Flagstaff, Arizona. (6) While we can now add the mobbing in “Cream City” to the list of Chinese-targeted pogroms, we also need to note a key difference. Milwaukee’s day (and night) of Chinese rage happened because of outrage over interracial sex. (7)

Sexuality was one of many anxieties animating Western “Chinophobic” riots, but it was not the precipitating cause in the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain outbursts. While accusations of filth and immorality stalked Chinese settlers, Western riots fed on fears of Chinese labor competition; they supposedly undercut adult, white, and (primarily) male workers. By contrast, the Milwaukee incident was sparked by charges of Chinese sexual misbehavior with white females. Cream City flared into its anti-Chinese firestorm because two middle-aged Chinese men, Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya, were arrested for allegedly taking sexual liberties with a number of Milwaukee females. Making this situation more explosive was the fact that the females in question were underaged (14 and younger), and all of them were white.

This article argues that Milwaukee’s anti-Chinese riot implicated a number of overlapping social anxieties. These include the following volatile elements: 1) the meaning of “Chinese” in the United States at a time when a nationwide Exclusion regime was being formed, and 2) the fears of both “unruly” girls and the formation of urban girl subcultures during the late 19th century. In the end, the Milwaukee incident would be resolved with the direct punishment of Wisconsin’s Chinese population and the indirect disciplining of Milwaukee’s white girl population.

The revelations

In first breaking the story about the alleged multiple sexual assaults, the Milwaukee Sentinel greeted its morning readers with this headline: “Chinese Demons. Their Terrible Practices in Milwaukee. Children Enticed into Laundry Dens and then Ruined.” Keeping readers salivating for more details, the paper would lure them the following morning with “Chinese Horrors. Twenty two Children are Lured into the Dens.” (8)

In addition, both the Sentinel and the Madison-based Wisconsin State Journal circulated hair-raising theories the day after Hah Ding’s and Sam Yip Ya’s arrests. Both newspapers reported as a verified fact that something much more sinister was at work, something that signified a moral epidemic stretching from Wisconsin to Illinois. The lead paragraphs for both papers’ accounts asserted that a “league” or “alliance” of Milwaukee and Chicago based Chinamen existed for the sole purpose of transporting white girls from Wisconsin to be Chinese brides in Chicago. “It is now thought to be proven that a regular traffic was carried on in young girls…. An alliance exists between the Celestials in Chicago and their brethren in Milwaukee, whereby half a dozen Chinamen in Chicago have married white girls from Milwaukee, who have paid money for their wives.” (9) This accusation, so fantastic that even one of the newspapers declared it “well nigh incredible,” would later be repudiated by Superintendent Richard Whitehead of the Humane Society (the same Whitehead who first accused the two Chinese of misdeeds.) Nevertheless, the editors at the respectable Sentinel thought the charges credible enough that they gave it front page prominence during the crucial first day’s coverage of the scandal.

Given the small numbers of Chinese residents in the Midwest and Great Lakes states, one wonders how they could have set off this moral panic, which prefigured the white slavery panic of the Progressive Era. At the beginning of the 1880s, most of the Chinese residents in the United States were in California. That state recorded 75,132 Chinese residents in the tenth census of the United States; the next highest states were Oregon (9,510) and Nevada (5,416.) The region that we call “the Midwest” had minuscule numbers (the Wisconsin state census for 1880 did not bother to list Chinese or Oriental nativity.) Nevertheless, a number of states in this region did experience a demographic trend that signaled an acceleration of the Chinese presence. Between the 1870 census and the 1880 census, the following before-and-after population events occurred: Michigan had one recorded Chinese resident in 1870, ten years later, it showed 27. Iowa had 3, Ohio counted 1 and Illinois listed 1 in 1870: in 1880 they had 33,109, and 209 respectively. Three states: Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin listed no Chinese residents in 1870, ten years later they registered 29, 24, and for the Badger State, 16 Chinese. (10) For a state such as Wisconsin, going from zero to a double digit figure represented not only a countable but a newly visible presence. A “Chinaman” could now be seen and watched within both the imaginary city and on real-world streets and sidewalks. Moreover, these appearances and settlements occurred within the context of a growing and eventually successful nation-wide campaign for Chinese laborer exclusion. (11)

By the time of the sex scandal and riot, there were approximately 60 Chinese in Milwaukee; the vast majority were laundrymen. (12) Instead of concentrating within a Chinese ethnic sector, the Milwaukee laundrymen fanned outside the city’s central business district to establish Asian hand laundries in numerous wards and neighborhoods. This pattern was similar to that pioneered by Chinese laundry-workers in Chicago. In that nearby Great Lakes city, Chinese laundries grew from one in 1872 to nearly 200 in the 1880s, many of them expanding beyond the city’s core business district. (13)

Much like their Lake Michigan countrymen, the Milwaukee Chinese would find themselves the objects of local curiosity and the subjects for newspaper coverage. Cream City newspapermen would outfit the local Chinese with the usual “Chinamen” stereotypes popular in 19th century America. (Interestingly, the Milwaukee Sentinel published some stories in the early 1880s that were unusually sympathetic to the city’s Asian laundrymen.) Nevertheless, by mid-decade, the laundries and their owners were increasingly portrayed as morally dangerous, their businesses depicted as “dens” of opium eating and filth.

In some of these accounts–the stuff of public sensemaking with which to characterize the local laundrymen–a new species of trouble began to emerge. Strangely portending the outburst of 1889, the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Daily News reported a ruckus at Lee Chung’s on Grand Avenue in the fall of 1885. While investigating the circumstances of the subsequent commotion (a man named Wah Lee had complained of theft at Chung’s laundry) the police detectives found a strange sight within the inner rooms of a “washee” place. Hiding beneath the bed of one of the Chinese was a “little girl”, white, and “quite pretty.” (14) Stories of illicit white-Chinese relations started circulating for at least four years prior to March 1889. The 1885 affair would not be the last: indeed, one year before the city-wide explosion of 1889, accusations again flew and city officials groused at their inability to stop the alleged rot. With a year’s worth of frustration building into a slow-burning resentment, the headlines of March 7th led many Milwaukee men to demand a final solution.

The Mob

Many Milwaukee men would not sit quietly at home reading the headlines; they would act. For those who wanted to vent their anger, they knew where they could show their manhood, and for those who were curious, who wanted to catch a glimpse of the “Chinese heathens,” they also knew where to go. The place to congregate would be Market Square outside the old city hall where inside that building, Judge James Mallory was assigned to conduct the preliminary hearing of the two Chinese prisoners.

James Mallory was a familiar figure in Wisconsin politics, both in Milwaukee and throughout the state (he was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1877). A judge on the Municipal Court, he attained notoriety because of a major urban disturbance that occurred in 1886. In May of that year, the city witnessed its bloodiest labor dispute as the Wisconsin state militia fired a deadly volley at an advancing march of workingmen demonstrating for the eight hour day. Five would be killed and ten wounded in the “Bay View Massacre.” James Mallory would tend the judicial machinery as the forums of legal order blamed the demonstrators and exonerated the troops who fired upon the unarmed crowd. Mallory’s court would arraign nineteen men for “riotous behavior” and a grand jury would return fifty indictments against forty-nine men. That grand jury received a firm bracing from the Judge when he told them “[o]ur constitution does not protect any … freedom of speech” for what he called, the “reckless criminal conduct of anarchists and demagogues.” (15)

The Chinese affair would present Judge Mallory with another urban crisis. Interestingly, while Milwaukee’s public culture would eventually forget its anti-Chinese riot, in a way that it could never do for the 1886 Bay View Massacre, a neighboring metropolis saw a direct link between the two city disturbances. In nearby Chicago, the Tribune classified the anti-Chinese turmoil as the worst disorder Cream City had experienced since the Bay View troubles. (16) While Milwaukee may have forgotten its foray into “sinophobia,” it remains instructive for us as an example of a major 19th century urban disturbance, moreover, one that fed off the contemporary anti-Chinese sentiment that was roiling the nation at the time.

The anti-Chinese tumult on Lake Michigan was no little matter. It would see about 3,000 Milwaukeeans participate in various types of public mass behavior, misbehavior, and disorder. Lasting four days and culminating in twelve hours of roaming violence, the Chinese crisis was a case of racial and ethnic-specific targeting. This bull’s-eye marking of Chinese Milwaukeeans and their property made the 1889 disturbance different from contemporary Northern urban riots where competing ethnic groups fought each other. (17) The targeting in Wisconsin, at times resembling human hunting, made the Milwaukee incident more of a mass lynching that could have reminded persons in 1889 of the large anti-freedman riots of the Reconstruction years.

And yet, while the violence arrests our attention, it is important to note that a variety of public acts characterized Milwaukee’s anti Chinese crisis as a whole. The property destruction and person threatening happened at the end of a four day process, the previous four days acting as a churning of urban public behaviors. This agitation of public-ness, of what might be called a racist and race-disciplining form of democratic action, saw mostly white male Milwaukeeans perform at varying moments: protest, marching, charivari, lynch-mobbing, and finally, property destruction and large scale violence.

Thus Milwaukee’s anti Chinese moment could be divided into two phases. First, the mobilization of persons, then the unleashing of roving violence. Stretching from Friday through Monday, the first phase saw a growing congregation of persons at the public space where official justice did its business–the public square opposite the old city hall. This congregating seemed to generate its own dynamic. With each passing day, the news of the scandal and word that many Milwaukeeans were daily gathering in spontaneous all day meetings in an old public square, made the accumulation of bodies and sentiment an unstoppable tide.

But growth by itself could not guarantee that anti-Chinese violence was inevitable, that the fourth day would result in the city wide hunting of Chinese. The following pattern governed the mobilization of Milwaukeeans and anti-Chinese sentiment: a series of immediate frustrations that were offset by a series of immediate opportunities to censure and discipline the two Chinese. Significantly, these opportunities were carefully patrolled by Milwaukee’s police, thus preventing the lynching of Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya in the short run, but tending to exacerbate the sense of unabated frustration that was gathering outside the old city hall.

The first set of frustrations happened early on Friday, the first day of the preliminary hearing. Many who arrived at Market Square wanted to witness the court proceedings; however, the room itself could not accommodate all the onlookers. Judge Mallory’s courtroom soon became a spectacle itself as 200 or more men took nearly every available seat and seemed to occupy every possible standing space. The crowding packed the men in the immediate chambers and then out the door, through the hall, and down the stairs. Many wished to move forward to get into the already sardined courtroom, but were unable “to advance a foot. ,Is When the case of Wisconsin vs. Sam Yip Ya was called, the 200 or more men in the courtroom surged forward, requiring a number of Milwaukee policemen to keep order. (49)

A second set of frustrations stemmed from the proceedings within the courtroom. If Milwaukee men wanted immediate justice, they were bound to be disappointed. The judicial proceedings that late winter day constituted the preliminary hearing; the trial and final disposition of the two cases would not occur for another three months. Contributing to that immediate and continuing sense of outrage were the delays that happened one after another over two successive days. The two Chinese seemed to be keeping their punishment at bay by convincing the Judge that matters could not start rill the two had obtained an adequate Chinese language translator. Indeed, their attorneys got a continuance on Friday, and another on Saturday. They successfully argued that no translator was to be found in Wisconsin except for a reputed Chinese scholar and former missionary who lived in Evansville. After an hour and a half of being squeezed into the courtroom, the “very large” and disappointed crowd began to file out the door and down the stairs into the morning air.

Giving form to their frustrations was the expression of lynch talk. While in the courtroom, many of the male onlookers expressed themselves very audibly, their threats could be heard prominently in the courtroom. With the grant of the continuance, an angry growl arose from the courtroom observers, and in the public square outside the courtroom the inchoate rage soon took a clearer form. “String them up to a lamp post,” cried a dozen “determined looking men.”

The police did not want to lead the two prisoners into the human hive that was buzzing in the street below; they waited, hoping the crowd would disperse, but the men refused to go home. By the time the police brought the two suspects out the door, the crowd in Market Square had grown to a sizeable number, estimated by three newspapers as being anywhere from 200 to 500 “men and boys.”

As the two Chinese suspects walked from the old city hall to the county jail, the men in the crowd followed very close despite a police escort protecting Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya. Various cries of “lynch them” and “get a rope” accompanied the procession. Described as “surging” toward the jail, the nearly 200 to 500 men and boys deliberately crowded up to the two suspects and jammed them until the police had to drive the mob back. With the doors of the jail closed and the two prisoners secured, it appeared that a crisis had been averted. But the week’s troubles had only begun. Contrary to expectations, the crowd did not disperse when the prisoners disappeared behind the closed doors of the jail; the men in Market Square gathered “in knots of half a dozen or more” and “freely discussed” the crimes attributed to “the Celestial heathens.”

Saturday proved to be a repeat performance of Friday, yet with more danger. Again, the two attorneys argued for a continuance, again it was granted, and once more amassed onlookers went away disgruntled. That morning, a number of Milwaukeeans believed that the city was ripe for some rope. According to the Daily Review, many arrived ready for a lynching. At least one individual seemed to goad this sentiment by his very presence. He was the father of one of the alleged victims and he brandished a horse pistol.

Within the courtroom, justice seemed frustrated, thus contributing to the visible irritation of onlookers and hangers on. Their disappointment nevertheless seemed offset by the chance to get close to the two accused and jostle them. This was apparently effective as the newspapers noted that the public display produced its desired effect. The two Chinese were white with fear, they had turned pale and one of the prisoners became a mass of uncoordinated legs and feet; he had to be buoyed along by the arm of a policeman. With the closing of the jail doors, the crisis seemed averted once more, but that was a mirage; it only grew stronger. According to the Daily Review, Saturday’s mob had grown to 3,000 in strength, and the next day’s sabbath would provide no respite for rumor and anger. If the two Chinese under police protection could not be strung from a lamppost, then perhaps other Chinese could be taught a lesson.

The scene that greeted Milwaukee police on Monday morning was foreboding. The Square was now “black with people.” But the police could rest easy that day, no lynching would occur, at least not of Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya. The problem was that the anti-Chinese spirit would rove beyond Market Square to include the entire city. That spirit was moved by the details that emerged from the preliminary hearing that now began after two days’ delay. Amidst those proceedings, for the next twelve hours, the rest of Milwaukee’s Chinese would be harried out of their places of businesses and harassed if seen on the streets.

Ironically, the anti-Chinese riot was born from good intentions. The police thought they could avoid another “wild scene” by sequestering Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya in the city hall and then using the police to break up the crowd into smaller groups. Believing this tactic would be most effective in disrupting the lynch mob mentality, the police decided to pull off their protection of Chinese laundries and concentrate their forces at the site of the previous week’s disturbances. There, the police would further suppress the hanging urge by physically breaking up the crowd with constantly moving nightsticks. The result was peace at Market Square, but disorder everywhere else in Milwaukee, for the crowd became like a monstrous being, cut at the mass, but quickly reordering into smaller groups to attack Chinese laundries. The police plan both succeeded and failed: it succeeded in diluting the lynch spirit at Market Square, but it failed to dispel the anti Chinese sentiment, and indeed, it sent that spirit roving throughout the city.

This result, unforeseen and unanticipated, led to the day’s stonings and near lynchings of Chinese laundrymen unconnected to the alleged crimes testified to that morning in Judge Mallory’s courtroom. Instead of three thousand concentrated outside the jail, groups of 100 to 1,000 would congregate outside a Chinese laundry and launch a hail of rocks and stones to smash windows, storefronts, and doors. In addition, many of these attacks seemed to target more than property. The mobbers sought to terrorize the laundrymen inside those besieged locales.

One of the first recorded incidents, perhaps the first to occur in the riot, happened at 618 Chestnut Street. At one o’clock in the afternoon, a group of men moved off Market Square and walked up Chestnut Street. At the 600 block they congregated at a Chinese laundry and smashed its windows. Two Chinese escaped up Winnebago Street. Later, the crowd formed at State and Fourth and smashed the windows of Ring Shane’s laundry. The police received reports of other raids: Fond du Lac Avenue near Fifteenth Street, another on Walnut Street, others at the corner of Cherry and Twelfth.

The police, still believing that a real lynching of the actual criminal suspects would occur at the old city hall, placed all their night officers on duty to protect Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya. Meanwhile, acts of violence against the majority of Milwaukee’s Chinese population continued through the night. The next morning would find a preliminary assessment: on the southside of the city, all the laundries on Mitchell Street, seven in number, were attacked and abandoned. The same was true of the west side and outlying districts.

The mobbings made one newspaper call the day’s acts, “very like a riot.” That paper, The Evening Wisconsin, seemed to pull up short, hang fire for a moment, and refuse to call the day’s events a full blown riot. Nevertheless, the deeds in Cream City were dangerous and destructive; they were very much like the drivings out that accompanied anti-Chinese violence in Western locales during the 1880s. Milwaukee’s mobbing was similar to Western “chinophobic” uprisings, yet it was also different. One key difference lay in the “speeded up” nature of the Wisconsin outrage. Processes seemed accelerated and compressed; what would have taken months in a Western locale in 1885-1886, took only days in Milwaukee. Whereas anti-Chinese violence in Westem cities often mobilized over a number of weeks, the Milwaukee agitation took only four days.

The issues at stake played their role. In Milwaukee, it was sex. And it was the combination of interracial sexuality, children, white girls, and the foreign Chinese, that would give Milwaukee’s anti Chinese moment its quick velocity to violence. Much of that combination was mixed and brewed in the courtroom of Judge James Mallory. Feeding the fervor growing outside the court were the revelations emerging from the preliminary hearing. The defendants, Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya, would be mute throughout these proceedings, but others would not be silent. Especially explosive were the testimonies of the girls who accused the pair of sexual license. The stories they told were mediated and amplified by the English-language press as well as such “foreign-language” newspapers such as The Milwaukee Herold (German) and Kuryer Polski (Polish.) What the girls testified to was disturbing enough, but it was their own surprising behavior, as revealed in their sworn statements, that probably led to greater un-ease among adult Wisconsinites that winter week in 1889.

The Witnesses

Inside the chambers of Municipal Court Judge James Augustus Mallory, the on-lookers strained their necks to catch a glimpse of the two Chinese. But the crowd also wanted to gaze at the other principals in the case. Eight white girls, ranging in age from 8 to 13, would show up everyday at the preliminary hearing. The first witness was the girl who started the chain of events, and her role on Monday was to be the complaining witness against Hah Ding and Sam Yip Ya. While the evening newspapers agreed not to mention her full name, describing her only as Clara, one of the papers let out that her full name was Clara Kitzkow. (20)

Clara told of assault and victimization. That was the preferred story, the narrative that the District Attorney and much of the public wanted to hear. She related how one day, Hah Ding stole up behind her, pulled her hair, and told her to come to his Fifth Street laundry. She did, along with another girl. There they received gifts of cakes and candy. After two or three days, Clara returned to Hah Ding’s laundry and she entered his bedroom. Once there, the Chinese laundryman had “done bad things” to her. The Daily Review, refused to print the details, but assured its readers that her testimony was “too horrible to believe” as she related how she was “outraged by the brutal Oriental.” (21)

Her testimony, as redacted and embellished by the newspapers, seemed to confirm the early headlines about assault and depredation. Yet running throughout Clara’s story were peculiar details that belied the simple picture of surprise, attack, and victimization. According to the Milwaukee Sentinel, Clara said she was ravished in Hah Ding’s bedroom. Nevertheless, she went on to say that she continued to visit Hah Ding a week later where “bad things” were done once more. Furthermore, Clara said she not only returned but did so “a good many times” with other girls after school. “I have been in the habit of going there regularly since the forepart of January last until the first of March, going twice or three times a week.” In another account, Clara stated matter-of-factly that she had been visiting the laundries about twelve times since New Year’s and had been repeatedly taken advantage of on each occasion when she visited Sam Yip Ya, the laundryman on Fourth Street. (22)

The early-21 st century reader might find incongruity in Clara’s testimony. At the least, it casts doubt on the preferred simple narrative of attack and assault. Nevertheless, the newspapers chose to ignore the ill-fit of Clara’s repeated visits to Hah Ding’s and Sam Yip Ya’s laundries. But this puzzling incoherence would not go away. The testimonies of other girls would also show a pattern of continued visits despite alleged attacks.

The first girl to testify after Clara was a girl whose age the papers could not precisely identify. She was either eight or nine, depending on the guess of the papers, but all agreed on her name and every newspaper reported her pleasing ways. Her name was Blanche, and according to the Daily Journal, she was a “bright vivacious little miss.” Bright and attractive seemed to be the preferred ways of describing Blanche and she seemed to embody the entire drama. Her mannerisms and preciousness pointed to continuing innocence and innocence lost, a theme the newspapers played to the hilt.

Through little displays of what the newspapers took as surprising aptitude for a girl who was eight nor nine, she captivated the reading public and the immediate courtroom crowd. When asked if she knew what an oath was and the penalty for lying under oath, she said in a wide-eyed manner that she would go to jail if she lied on the witness stand. The papers and the audience seemed visibly amused. When asked to describe what bad things Hah Ding had done to her, she said she did not want “to say in front of all these people.” But the judge would want to know, assured the prosecutor and she proceeded to lean over to Judge Mallory and whisper. (23)

When Blanche spoke aloud of what occurred in the Fourth Street laundry, she seemed to confirm the preferred narrative. She said she had been hurt, and that she did not want to talk about the incident with anyone, wishing to “put it out of her mind.” The Evening Wisconsin took her halting account and gave it a vivid form, saying she was “ravish[ed]” by Hah Ding. But just as with Clam’s testimony, strange counter-details seemed to peep out between the words of her accusation. Yes, bad things were done to her the second instance she visited Hah Ding, but she continued to revisit the laundries % good many times,” at least five according to one newspaper redaction, even though each visit was met with “ravishment.” (24)

Thus, Blanche seemed to echo the incongruity of Clara Kitzkow’s testimony: the little eight or nine year old continued to visit the laundries after the alleged attack. Perhaps Blanche’s inconsistency was all the more disconcerting because she seemed to incarnate the small, child-like purity ascribed to all the girls. Yet even this ascription of purity was streaked with ambiguity. While emphasizing her innocence, the newspapers could not help noticing that “the little mite” seemed self-possessed and confident, and much more mature than the older Clara. Little Blanche may have been sending confused and mixed messages; an aspect that might have been more unsettling had it been acknowledged.

If there was an underlying tension, if doubts were starting to emerge about these Milwaukee girls, then Blanche herself seemed to offer a way out. She revealed that she had originally resisted visiting the Chinese laundries. She said she feared the Chinese; she “knew” Chinamen; she did not want to see any of them. “I know Chinaman,” she recalled telling her friends, “They might kill me.” (25) The only reason she went was because she was coaxed by her older friends, specifically Clara Kitzkow. Were it not for Kitzkow’s urgings, she would never have gone to Hah Ding’s and Sam Yip Ya’s.

With that comment, a shift occurred in the courtroom’s mood, and perhaps the other girls, more street-wise than their elders would admit, began to sense it. Late in the afternoon of Monday and continuing into Tuesday, other girls would testify about their experiences, and another Clara Kitzkow would emerge from their words: not the girl who initially experienced “bad things”, but one who boldly led her friends into new things to be experienced in the backrooms at Fourth Street and Fifth Street.

That new Clara Kitzkow was no longer the respectable 13 year old victim. Through the testimonies of three other girls, she was being cast as the assistant of the Chinese “villain[s]” in “entrapping” them.26 One of those girls, described as “sweet Lilly” by the Sentinel, stated that she had never gone into a Chinese laundry except when Clara was with her. “She told me to go,” said Lilly. Furthermore, Clara told Lilly other things. “She told me nasty things. She told me indescent [sic] things before I went to the laundries. It was about the things the Chinamen were doing.” (27)

By the time two other girl witnesses took the stand and flatly denied that anything “bad” had happened, the simple story had been violated. Something more complex had emerged, and perhaps more disturbing. By the second day, even as the papers tried to reinscribe the preferred narrative by using words such as “assault” and “attack,” they couldn’t help noticing how the story had been weakened. As the Milwaukee Daily Journal soberly observed, “[t]he sentiment in the courtroom underwent a change. (28)

If that shift happened, it was mirrored by another twist that occurred outside Judge Mallory’s chambers. With the girls’ testimonies published in the newspapers, word circulated that sexual minutia could now be heard publicly under cover of law. This led to questionable behavior by older Milwaukee males and only one newspaper, the working class Daily Review, caught it. It made a wry comment about this new curiosity. Instead of the audience of young men and boys who crowded the courtroom and Market Square the previous week, a new audience of older men, “white-haired and bald headed” were finding Masons to come to Municipal Court. These “old men” were seen “sneak[ing]” into the city hall, and the newspaper observed that “[t]he [courtroom] audience was noticeable for the number of old men it contained”—grey and white haired fellows who “made all sorts of excuses to get” in and take the “front seats” from which they could drink in “the filth with evident relish.” The paper concluded that “[a]ny excuse was given” to enter the court “rather than admit that they came to hear the unprintable details” of the case. The Daily Review found the perfect jeremiad to deliver to Milwaukee’s older men: “an old Irishman” who said to the voyeurs, “See the owld gisterer, he’s goin’ up, the owld sinner, with his white hairs. Ah, ye owled villain, go home to yer wife and daughters.” (29)

Whether genuine or fabricated by the paper, the “old Irishman’s” advice was meant to restore the normality of domesticity. However, the girls’ testimonies in March 1889 revealed a new peril to that ideal domestic world, especially as it related to daughters. Another world was intruding into the idealized domestic sphere: a world where daughters could learn from each other on the street.

Some of that other world could be seen in this exchange between Clara Kitzkow and another girl named Clara during a stretch of visits when the former led the latter to the Fourth Street Laundry.

“Will you go to Fourth Street?”

“No, I won’t”

“Why, you ninny; are you afraid?”

“Yes, I am; he will hurt me.”

“Pall, he won’t hurt you. He is all right.”

“Well, I’ll go with you this time.” (30)

The other-world of these German, Scandinavian, and native U.S.-born Milwaukee white girls–their street world–became visible through their testimonies. But the newspapers seemed unable to fully address the many dimensions of these schoolgirls, even when their courtroom behavior (when not on the witness stand) seemed to belie angelic depictions. Instead of mournfully reflecting on their mined lives, they “behaved as if they were in a schoolroom.” “They quarreled loudly, laughed and cracked jokes, and excited the pity of the spectators.” (31)

The girls were having a good time; their raucous combination of irreverence and insouciance could be daily observed in Judge Mallory’s chambers. The problem with the newspapers, especially The Milwaukee Sentinel, was their investment in the girls as “little creatures” and defiled angels. So committed were the papers to this view that they could not see the girls’ behavior as anything but more a naivete. The Sentinel hailed the reader’s sympathy, even as it was hailed itself by a larger cultural outlook demanding that pre-adolescent and adolescent white girls be understood as incapable of sexual knowledge. The Milwaukee Sentinel could only cry out, “Poor, innocent creatures!” when commenting on the girls’ loud behavior, antics that the Sentinel interpreted as signs of ignorance–the girls could not fathom their fallenness.

The girls also showed other levels of knowing, and the newspapers, disarmed by their need to ideologically defend the notion of Milwaukee white girls’ purity, missed the social dynamic that operated. For example, the girls set the conditions for their testimony. Without apparent benefit of adult legal advice and professional counsel, they all insisted that every girl be present when testimonies were given, and only on that condition would any testimony be given. None of the papers cared to comment or investigate what might have been a maneuver to avoid what we would call today, “the prisoner’s dilemma”–setting off each girls’ confessions against each other in private interrogations.

Moreover, when cornered, at least one girl, the 13 year old Clara Kitzkow, revealed an ability to shift attention, deflect questions, and throw red herrings in the path of the cross-examination. “You tried to get other little girls to go to the laundries didn’t you?,” asked the defense attorney. Clara replied sourly, “Well, I wasn’t the first one to tell them to go,” and she would later add that it was the other girls who asked her to take them to the Chinese laundryman. Clara squirmed under cross-examination and she would throw red meat, if not red herrings to the courtroom observers, the Judge, and whoever might find her desperate statements alarming. Clara knew her audience. After being confronted by the defense attorney, she chimed in with a story of how one little girl was kissed by a Chinaman, at another point she tossed off that one of the Chinese had sat in her lap. Clara also knew the truly incendiary regions of the adult imaginary. She said under cross examination that “other small girls … had gone to Chinese laundries with negroes.” (32)

Clara’s appeal to racist fears showed her clear-eyed negotiation of the wider adult world, as contrasted to the blindness of the sentinels of public information-the newspapers–who seemed unable and unwilling to talk about the girls, much less the Chinese, in a straightforward way that transcended the set boxes (and set pieces) into which these marginalized subjectivites had been placed.

Perhaps unknown to Clara was the way larger political and social changes had recently structured the manner in which adult white Milwaukeeans were perceiving and interpreting her and her friends. Wisconsin, much like the rest of the nation, was undergoing a shift in the sexual regulation of adolescent girls: the 1880s was the decade of the age-of-consent reform campaigns. Inspired by exposes of sexual exploitation of working class girls in England, and incensed by an American report that the age of consent in many states was ten (Delaware being the outcast outlier with seven as its age of consent), a number of middle class American women, already mobilized by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, sought to raise the age. Beginning in 1885 and continuing over the next three decades, the campaign was able to raise the age from 10 to 16 in much of the Midwest. These statutory victories occurred in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota. Wisconsin was a part of this movement and the record shows a change from 10 in 1885 to 16 by 1920. (33)

The impulse in the 1880s was driven by the horror narrative of middle class and upper class men (cads or cads-to-be) preying upon working class girls (typically maids caught in a vise of occupational and class-situated sexual vulnerability.) To press for the protection of white girls (and this was a campaign racialized to protect against “white slavery”), campaign ideologues and activists urged a particular understanding of white female sexuality. Young girls were imagined and idealized as “passive and dependent” in any sexual situation. This was held to be especially true in the depredatory world of older men ensnaring much younger females. According to Mary Odem, the author of a monograph on the policing and protecting of working class girls, the typical reformers’ attitude was summed up in the following pronouncement: “no virtuous woman of any age, in her right mind, fully conscious of the consequences, ever did, or ever can, consent freely and voluntarily, without either physical or mental coercion to give up the most precious jewel in the crown of her womanhood!” (34)

Perhaps it was this perspective and its wider cultural reach that allowed newspapers such as The Sentinel to depict Clara Kitzkow as both the attacked victim and the girl who continued to visit the laundries. Accentuating the innocence marker was the idea that the girls, from 8 to 13, were pre-adolescent girls–really children who were best described as mites and little ones. If they returned to the laundries, it was because the Chinese gave them cakes and candy, not because of sex.

Nevertheless, Clara Kitzkow would receive only so much protection from the press. As with the wider assumptions of the age-of-consent campaign, the papers could also punish. The age of consent campaign sought to shelter girls from vampire-like older men, but this shield would only defend females who did not stray too publicly and obviously from the ideal type.

Working class daughters who departed from the ideals of purity and

passivity–by flirting with men on the streets, going to dance

halls, wearing fancy clothes and makeup, or engaging in sex outside

of marriage–were deemed wayward and in need of strict control by

the state. (35)

Clara would be disciplined–by losing the respectability granted her by the District Attorney, Superintendent Whitehead of the Humane Society, and the newspapers. When she first approached the witness stand as the complaining witness against Hah Ding, she was described as “tasteful” and even “refined.” Moreover, the labor friendly Daily Review commented that she spoke in a language “denoting that she had had good schooling and brought up by persons who could talk English correctly.” (36) This is noteworthy because The Daily Journal marked her as “[a] bright-looking German girl,” and the Evening Wisconsin called Blanche, “[a] bright-haired, intelligent American girl.” (37) Clara’s credibility was being aligned with dress, English proficiency, and the amorphous “bright” appearance of intelligence. Nothing “low” was being associated with these qualities. By the end of the second day’s proceedings, Clara would be re-cast, and this cultural work was rendered easier by noting class differences that were now foregrounded as prominent.

Clara had identified herself as a 13 year old (about to be 14 in a month and a half) who was raised by her grandparents. Her mother had been dead for seven years and her father was working in Chicago. (38) Clara Kitzkow would later assume a different appearance through the testimonies of the other girls, and in this guise she was more of a street urchin and local gang leader than a motherless child. The respectable Milwaukee Sentinel, the state’s largest English language newspaper and the organ for the political kingmaker, Horace Rublee, would complete the re-casting of Clara by inserting a class sneer. The next-to-last witness was a “beautiful girl in her neat read cloak and red hat.” The Sentinel recorded her name as Nina, an eleven year old, and noted that she looked “like a child of well-to-do parents.” Nina was caught in the mess because of someone else and the paper concluded that she was a rich girl “spoiled by bad company.” (39)

The age-of-consent campaign had reached its height in Wisconsin the very same year as the March 1889 incident: the state legislature in Madison had changed its rape and sexual assault laws to conform to a higher age threshold. Nevertheless, the law and the public sphere witnessed an unruly excess for which they were unprepared. This group of white girls had created their own hidden world along Fourth and Fifth Streets; their subculture came briefly into view, but the public media were disarmed from understanding them.

One more group needs to be noted. Clara and the other girls were not the only disruptive and momentarily unrecognizable category during the crisis of 1889. If these girls did not fit expectations, and if they kept slipping out of the interpellation of innocence, then another group also appeared strangely and newly unfamiliar. These were the Chinese of Milwaukee.

For most of their years in Milwaukee, the Chinese were reported as either comic or facelessly the same. Exceptions to this rule were truly exceptional. For the most part, and especially after 1885, the Chinese were portrayed as both risible and morally dangerous to white Milwaukee. Then in the late winter of 1889, almost in spite of themselves, the newspapers began to acknowledge new kinds of Chinamen populating Cream City. Admitttedly, these new Chinese were not the majority of Chinese Milwaukeeans. But their very presence belied the broad-brushed stereotypes and homogeneous foreign-ness that characterized previous public depictions of the Chinese. And because of the crisis, they suddenly appeared in the public papers: they constituted yet another undecidable category in a story full of subject positions going against the grain.

Instead of caricatures with heavy accents, the new Chinese spoke English well. The laundryman at Jefferson and Huron streets spoke “in very good English” and he described how he “dared not leave” his laundry during the worst of the riot. The laundryman at 209 Third was “quite intelligent” and spoke “English fluently.” (40) Many of these new Chinese did not have the comic names synonymized with Chinese residents. They were not “Gin Sling” or “One Lung.” Instead they had near Western-sounding names, for example, Jinx Hing of the Third Ward. One man said his Christian name was Jim (short for James) Young. And all the newspapers had to note the presence of a 22 year old Chinese American whom the District Attorney initially preferred as the interpreter for the two suspects. The Evening Wisconsin was surprised to note that he was a “young Chinaman with a good Scotch name” William J. Ferguson. Ferguson attended the Fifth Ward school and his English was also remarkable. Besides these surprising features, William J. Ferguson stood out for his natty urban American attire. “He is a very intelligent and refined young man and dressed in American clothes” approved the Daily Review. (41)

Perhaps the most surprising and disruptive Chinaman discovered during the March crisis was Chin Quen, the laundryman at 209 Third Street. Chin actually had two names: his Chinese name and an English one: Jim Young. Jim Young’s greatest surprise lay within his home at Third Street. Superintendent Whitehead, believing he had an open-ended search warrant, scoured the Business District for Chinese laundries; he was on a mission to collect more evidence of girl abuse. Entering the residence and business at 209 Third, the Superintendent was “astonished by what he saw.” There, reclining “in true Oriental lassitude” was an adult white woman. Perhaps more astonishing, if not more disturbing for Whitehead, was the fact that “she was quite pretty” and her feet (suddenly rendered “Orientalized” because they were “daintily slippered”) peeped “from beneath a rich and fashionable dress.” The woman was the wife of Jim Young and the paper had to note that “she kept him company in his noisome quarters” at 209 Third.

Mrs. Jim Young or Mrs. Chin Quen possessed still more disruptive identities, enough to turn the situation into a true carnivalesque. Before moving to Milwaukee, she lived in Boston where she met Jim Young and married him. Her maiden name was Blanch Wheatly, but Blanch Wheatly also had two names. In Boston, she was a “song and dance artist” and her stage name was Blanch Howard. The Sentinel had to put closure to this proliferation of changing identities; the newspaper placed her into the identity-box that would most control her–by race and gender. They identified her as a woman of lost whiteness; the paper ended the description of Mrs. Jim Young nee Blanch Wheatly/Blanch Howard by calling her “Mrs. Chin Quen.” (42)

What happened to the principals in this case? The two Chinese would remain incarcerated, and two months later, Sam Yip Ya would be convicted on a sexual felony in less than ten minutes. Thereafter the story becomes murky. What became of the girls, their families, the two Chinese laundrymen and their fellow Chinese Milwaukeeans? We have only a few dues. We learn from an October 1889 news story that more than six months after the initial revelations, all the girls were having problems being readmitted by public or parochial schools. Principals saw the girls as bad schoolyard influences and priests shunned them as moral lepers. (43) What eventually became of them is hard to discover because they ceased being newsworthy once the affair was forgotten. Sam Yip Ya and Hah Ding also faded from view. After their incarcerations–Sam Yip Ya in Waupun State Prison and Hah Ding in the Milwaukee County Jail–their paper trails evaporate. Did they return to Milwaukee? Did they move to Chicago? All they left behind was their brief notoriety in the spring of 1889. And what of their Chinese neighbors and fellow Asians in Milwaukee? During the riot, many Chinese laundrymen left for other Wisconsin communities such as Oshkosh. Once the hostilities died down, most returned to the Cream City and tried to carry on business as usual. With each passing month and each changing year, the public memory of what occurred in March 1889 became dimmer, the mobbing was assimilated into a record of other urban disturbances, and Milwaukee’s historians, not noticing the Chinese in their midst in any event, let slip a social fact that told much about the city’s ethnic tensions, its gendered racial history, and its Midwestern Chinese. (44)


Four days of drama, one night of mobbing, and ten minutes of deliberation. This string of events seems to capture the fates of Sam Yip Ya and Ha Ding, the history of Chinese Milwaukeeans in 1889, and Cream City’s moment of anti-Chinese violence in the nineteenth century. Being brief, it might give the impression that Milwaukee’s episode was a flash in the pan, a momentary eruption that only slightly connects to the city’s larger history or U.S. social and cultural history in general. But one should not conclude from its fleeting notoriety that the 1889 turmoil has nothing to say about larger matters.

Milwaukee’s anti Chinese moment should be understood for more than its spectacular features and its localism. For historians, the events of 1889 act as a histoire probleme, what James Henretta proposed in 1979 as the vantage for writing a new social history as lived and complexly recovered. (45) The range of events, both public and private, and the way they configured, form the nexus of “event, conjuncture and structure” that can illumine in a highly condensed way, the interaction of local detail and larger significance.

Drawing this moment out of its localism and placing it within larger trends shows its relevance to a number of historiographies. For histories of “race,” the events of 1889 tells a race account different from the dominant black/white model and examines another racial formation, in this case, Asian American in the first decade of the Exclusion Era. Moreover, Milwaukee in 1889 adds a twist to this racialization history by examining Asian America beyond its own Pacific Coast-oriented framework, thus contributing to a new vantage that reexamines Asian American history “east of the Pacific Coast.” (46) The Wisconsin site provides another useful difference, one not limited to Asian Americanists. Recovering Milwaukee’s Exclusion Era outburst contributes to the “new Midwestern history” currently taking shape in studies seeking to move beyond tired formulas and cliches about “the Heartland.” These new regionalists and new Midwesternists prefer to tell, as one of them recently put it, “counter stories” about the area. (47) Certainly Milwaukee’s Asian moral panic fits this strain of counter interpretation that rebuts the oft invoked image of unremitting Midwestern “sameness.”

For historians of sexuality, the episode’s details lend a factual density to what John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman generalized as the “expansion of sexuality into the public arena” during the post-Civil War years. (48) Their notion of the “expansion of sexuality beyond the family,” its “increased visibility … in the public sphere,” highlighted the disruptive effects this had on many nineteenth century middle class Americans. Narrating Wisconsin’s anti-Chinese incident thickens this periodization by making specific an intersected clash of raced and gendered situations whose dynamics assumed volatile proportions because their underlying sexuality became public, precisely at a time when increasingly publicized sexuality served as a vehicle for larger social and political reform movements.

Closely linked to this tie with sexuality history is the following larger point that the 1889 episode can address. Milwaukee’s Chinese incident concerns more than local history because its governing anxieties were more than local. Events in Wisconsin both telescoped and anticipated similar circumstances that occurred elsewhere in the Midwest and on the East Coast. However singular its happenings may have been, the scandal in Cream City was of a piece with concerns expressed in other cities about their Asian interracial sexuality predicaments. This can be seen when, one year later, Jacob Riis published How The Other Half Lives. (49) Writing about New York, he warned of an already brewing crisis of white females frequenting the Chinese quarter to satisfy their opium addiction. Many of these females, described as “white … girls hardly yet grown to womanhood,” had covered the shame of their drug dependence and cohabitation with Chinese men with the fig leaf of respectability. “The calmness with which they discuss it, while insisting, illogically upon the fiction of a marriage that deceives no one, is disheartening. (50)

The sexual and social bases for Milwaukee’s 1889 uproar resembles this New York expose, and Riis’ extended observations make an even closer fit. He referred to “Case Number 39,499” from the annual report of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children which told of an “under age[d]” girl who was “wrecked on [the] Chinese shoal.” Supplementing what he assured readers were first-hand observations, case Number 39,499 told the story of a thirteen year old who “floated about until she landed in a Chinese laundry.” According to Riis, she was not unlike numerous other girls who fell into the hands of Chinese men who “inveigl[ed] little girls into [their] laundr[ies],'” those places being “outposts of Chinatown, that are scattered all over the city, as the outer threads of the spider’s web that holds its prey fast.” (51)

One might insert the names, Hah Ding, Sam Yip Ya, and Clara Kitzkow into the anonymous description given by Riis. A year later another publication trumpeted its revelations, “Girls in Chinese Den.” As with Riis, the National Police Gazette could have cast with type borrowed from the Milwaukee incident of 1889. (52)

Hence, Milwaukee’s experience was not the sole case of 19th century fears about Chinese males and interracial contact with white females. It was not the first, nor would it be the last. Versions would continue into the next century, finding their way into Immigration and Naturalization reports and sociologies about Chinatown. (53) Because it was not unique, the 1889 Wisconsin case can help historians generalize about this strain of urban folklore and criminalizing practice. Being unstudied and only noted, these Orientalizings in New York, Milwaukee, and other cities may appear as discrete outbursts of a diffuse “sinophobia.” But the persistence, regularity, and longevity of these neighborhood notions (extending to numerous neighborhoods in a number of cities) points to a cultural practice that could do the work of disciplining different groups amidst the urban disorders of the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. The circulation and affirmation of these narratives could enforce a species of social control not unlike the more notorious “Southern rape complex” that governed African American men in the midst of Jim Crow. The urban folklore surrounding Chinese laundries and the presence of “degraded” white females therein could serve to patrol another border of interracial social contact in the disorderly urban environment.

Milwaukee’s 1889 incident can give form to these city stories by serving as an interpretative outer limit; it acts as a boundary to organize this class of historical events.

Milwaukee’s Chinese moral panic was the most documented of these notices, and it was the most far ranging in its urban scope and larger disruptive effects. The Wisconsin story offers the richest case so far of the control exercised over the kind of interracial interactions that Jacob Riis depicted as invariably degrading. In addition, being the most widely violent, Milwaukee also serves as a boundary marker of actuality; lynch disciplining and mobbing really did occur in an non-Southern example of these panic postings.


By 1889 a number of regimes of discipline were being exerted over two marginalized populations within the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was not just a law, it created a legal order that stretched from 1882 to at least 1943, the year of its formal “repeal.” The Milwaukee anti-Chinese incident occurred in the midst of a twenty year period that witnessed ever harsher amendments added to the Exclusion edifice. The Milwaukee episode also occurred during the height of the age-of-consent campaign. These legal changes created a regime as well: a system of ideological expectations and social control that twisted around the competing demands of both protecting and policing white females. The Milwaukee incident of March 1889 showed that at their height, at the apex of their statutory success, these two disciplinary regimes encountered a riot of excess: meanings and acts that exceeded the control of both. These two orders required a particular type of Chinese and a particular type of white female to lend coherence to their control. In retrospect, there was more than one riot in March 1889: the visible riot of white men in the streets, but also the riot of unruly white girls and the outbreaks of undecodable “new” Chinese in Milwaukee’s public sphere. For many Milwaukeeans, the most dangerous of the three, were the ones they desperately wanted to believe were the most innocent.


I would like to thank the following persons and groups for giving me valuable insights and comments while this research took the form of conference papers and workshop presentations: Gary Okihiro, Romon Gutierrez, Thomas Archdeacon, Peggy Pascoe, Ruth Rosen, Judy Wu John Cheng, Henry Yu, Nayan Shah, Daniel Ernst, the Asian American Studies Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Asian Pacific American Studies community at Arizona State University, the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michael Thornton, May Caroline Chan, Joseph Jordan, Stephen D. Rachman, Amy Derogatis, Dagmar Herzog, Peter Steams, and Wayne Patterson.

(1.) “Cream City” was the nickname for Milwaukee. It referred to the cream color of the bricks that came from the city. Bayard Still, Milwaukee, A History of a City (Madison, 1948), 64.

(2.) Milwaukee’s was the only city-wide, massive anti-Chinese disturbance of the 1880’s type to occur in the “Midwest” (usually designated as the states of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio.) Another disturbance occurred in the South; this happened in Waynesboro, Georgia. See note 7.

(3.) Roger Daniels, ed. Anti-Chinese Violence in North America (New York, 1978.) This Arno Press book, a volume in the “Asian Experience in North America” series, reprinted journal articles from 1929 to 1974 about anti-Chinese pogroms. It includes studies on Chinese-targeted “outbreaks” in Seattle, Tacoma, Denver, Los Angeles, Humboldt County, and outside the United States in Vancouver and Torreon (Coahuila, Mexico.)

(4.) The 1870’S had the next highest number of outbreaks with 33. The 1860s and 1890s had 11 instances apiece, and the tailends of this era–the 1850s and 1900s–had the least number of incidents with 5 and 2 respectively. John R. Wunder, “Anti-Chinese Violence in the American West, 1850-1910” in Law for the Elephant, Law for the Beaver: Essays in the Legal History of the American West edited by John McLaren, Hamar Foster, and Chet Orloff (Pasadena, CA, 1992), 214, 219. Professor Wunder has tabulated the figures and frequency of anti-Chinese violence from secondary sources such as Henry Tsai Shih-Shan’s The Chinese Experience in America, 1986; Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer’s The Anti-Chinese Movement in California, 1939, 1991; and Sucheng Chan’s This Bittersweet Soil: The Chinese in California Agriculture, 1860-1910.

(5.) Wunder, 220.

(6.) This distinction has not been noted until now, in this essay. Milwaukee’s anti-Chinese outburst has not registered with either historians of Milwaukee or Asian America; it remained a forgotten moment for more than a century.

(7.) The 1880’s saw another anti-Chinese act that might have been indirectly affected by anxiety over interracial sex. As with the Milwaukee case, it occurred east of the Rocky Mountains, but south of the Mason-Dixon line–in Waynesboro, Georgia. See “Chinese Miscegenation Protested Against Waynesboro, Georgia,” New York Times, 11 June 1883; “Chinese in Waynesboro, Georgia–Revolt Against Miscegenation,” New York Times, 21 June 1883.

(8.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 6 March and 7 March 1889.

(9.) Wisconsin State Journal, 7 March t889.

(10.) Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer, The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Urbana and Chicago, 1939, 1991), 21. These figures are taken from Table 6 “Chinese in the United States, by States and Territories. Sandmeyer culled these figures from the United States Census.

(11.) The historical scholarship on Chinese Exclusion has grown considerably over the last ten years. Preceding the current wave were the historians Mary Roberts Coolidge in 1909 (Chinese Immigration), Elmer Sandmeyer in 1939 (The Anti-Chinese Movement in California); and Alexander Saxton in 1971 (The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California) One can now add to that list the following: Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill, 1998); Lucy E. Salyer, Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law (Chapel Hill, 1995); Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (Berkeley, 1995); Sucheng Chan, This Bittersweet Soil: The Chinese in California Agriculture, 1860-1940 (Berkeley, 1986); Sucheng Chan and K. Scott Wong, Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identitites During the Exclusion Era (Philadelphia, 1998); Henry Yu, Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America (New York, 2001); Madeline Y. Hsu, Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home. Transnationalism and Migration Between the United States and South China, 18821943 (Palo Alto, 2000); Tung Pok Chin with Winifred C. Chin, Paper Son. One Man’s Story (Philadelphia 2000); Erika Lee, “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Garekeeping, 1882-1924″ in Journal of American Ethnic History (Spring 2002) and Erika Lee, Enforcing the Borders: Chinese Exclusion along the U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1882-1924,” in The Journal of American History 89 (June 2002.)

(12.) This is an anecdotal number drawn from the observers of the March 1889 riot. Their rough sense of the size of Milwaukee’s Chinese population was reported in the English-language newspapers. In particular, the Chinese community’s self-appointed and press-anointed spokesperson, Sam Ring Kee, gave this approximate figure. Milwaukee Sentinel, 2 April 1889.

(13.) Paul C.P. Siu, The Chinese Laundryman. A Study in Social Isolation (New York, 1987), 26.

(14.) “A Day in the City. Seven Chinamen Locked Up By Police. A Young White Girl Found in One of Their Dens.” Milwaukee Sentinel, 22 September 1885. “Chinamen Acquitted. Convincing the Court That They Had Been Wrongfully Accused of Crime” Milwaukee Daily Journal, 22 September 1885.

(15.) Robert C. Nesbit, The History of Wisconsin Volume lib Urbanization and Industrialization, 1873-1893 (Madison, 1985), 406409 passim.

(16.) “Wanted to Lynch the Chinamen,” Chicago Tribune, 12 March 1889. Other non-Wisconsin newspapers that mentioned the Milwaukee disturbance included the following: Rioting at Milwaukee, Detroit Free Press, 12 March 1888; “The People Up In Arms, Residents of the Cream City Have Had Enough of the Chinese, San Francisco Examiner, 12 March 1889; and “Mobbing the Chinese. Excitement in Milwaukee Yesterday Afternoon,” Atlanta Constitution, 12 March 1889.

(17.) One such example would be the 1871 “Orange” riots in New York City. See Mary R Ryan, Civic Wars. Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley, 1997), 271-82.

(18.) Milwaukee Daily Journal “Hints of Violence. Immense Crowd Around the Municipal Courts Today” 8 March 1889.

(19.) “When the case of the stare against Sam Yip Ja [sic] and Hah Ding was called, the crowd surged forward until a number of policemen was required to keep the bar enclosure clear.” Milwaukee Sentinel 9 March 1889, “Hurried to Jail. Chinamen in Danger of Violence From Citizens.”

(20.) The Polish daily, Kuryer Polski gave Clara’s name as “Klare Gitzkopf.” Kuryer Polski 8-go Marca, 1889.

(21.) The Daily Review, 11 March 1889.

(22.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 12 March 1889.

(23.) The Daily Journal, 11 March 1889.

(24.) The Milwaukee Sentinel reported the following from Blanche’s testimony. “I went there five times on my way home from school. The second time the Chinaman did something bad with me.” The peculiarity of the continued visits and the harm done to Blanche is further conveyed by the following. “‘What did you say when Lilly and Clara wanted you to go to the laundry? asked one of the attorneys for the defense. ‘O, I said that I knew Chinamen very well and was afraid of them,’ replied the witness naively. ‘Why did you not cry out when the Chinaman took liberties with you?’ ‘I was afraid to make a noise for fear he would hurt me.’ ‘How many times &d you go to the laundry?’ ‘A good many times. I think it was five times.'” Milwaukee Sentinel, 12 March 1889.

(25.) Daily Review, 11 March 1889.

(26.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 13 March 1889.

(27.) The Daily Review, 12 March 1889.

(28.) Milwaukee Daily Journal, 12 March 1889.

(29.) The Daily Review, 12 March 1889.

(30.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 13 March 1889.

(31.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 13 March 1889.

(32.) Daily Review, 12 March 1889.

(33.) Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (Chapel Hill, 1995.), 14-15.

(34.) Odem, Delinquent Daughters 25.

(35.) Odem, 25.

(36.) Daily Review, 11 March 1889.

(37.) The Evening Wisconsin, 12 March 1889.

(38.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 12 March 1889.

(39.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 13 March 1889.

(40.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 10 March 1889.

(41.) The Daily Review, 9 March 1889.

(42.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 10 March 1889.

(43.) Milwaukee Sentinel, 25 October 1889. “Barred Them Out. An Outcome of the Recent Chinese Cases. The Girls Concerned Are Not Admitted to Schools. Fears That Their Association Would Contaminate Other Children–The Parents Greatly Worked Up Over the Matter.”

(44.) Bayrd Still, Milwaukee. The History of a City. (Madison, 1948); Gerd Korman, Industrialization, Immigrants, and Americanizers: The View from Milwaukee (Madison, 1967); and John Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee (Milwaukee, 1999.)

(45.) James Henretta, “Social History as Lived and Written,” The American Historical Review 84 (December 1979.)

(46.) An example of this work is Jack Tchen’s New York Before Chinatown. Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882, (Baltimore, 1999.)

(47.) These “new Midwesternists” recently brought their concerns together in this published volume: Andrew R.L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray, The American Midwest. Essays on Regional History (Bloomington, IN, 2001.) The forthcoming collaborative effort, The Encyclopedia of the Midwest, a project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, also heralds a desire to move beyond stereotypes and construct new histories of the region. The term, “counter narrative” is from Susan Gray, “Stories Written in Blood: Race and Midwestern History” in the Cayton and Gray volume cited above.

(48.) John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters. A History of Sexuality in America. 2nd edition. (Chicago, 1988, 1997), 138.

(49.) Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. (1890; reprint, with an introduction by David Leviatin, Boston, 1996.)

(50.) Ibid., 123.

(51.) Ibid.

(52.) “Girls in Chinese Dens” from the National Police Gazette 2 May 1891 cited in Lawrence Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History (New York, 1993), 492, note 69.

(53.) Frank Leslie’s Illustrated depicted white female opium addicts within a Chinese den as “A Growing Metropolitan Evil” in its May 12, 1883 issue (Jack Tchen, New York Before Chinatown, 264.) Well after 1889, folklore circulated about the dangerous and mysterious Chinese laundry. Paul Siu, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago during the 1930s, sampled the street wisdom about Chinese laundries. Many of these stories resonate with circumstances in Milwaukee, 1889. One of his non-Chinese interviewees said, “Now I had heard all sorts of weird stories about ‘Chinamen’ and was rather afraid. I had heard that they chased boys with a red hot iron and did all kinds of mysterious and sinister things in their back rooms. Siu concluded in the 1930. that “[t]he stereotype version of the laundryman is predominant among children. They get it from the ‘Fu Manchu’ type of movies and by hearsay from adults. Elders deliberately or involuntarily furnish the child a mysterious notion about the neighborhood laundryman. Thus the children develop a fear of him, imagining all sorts of evil things he might have done.” Siu, The Chinese Laundryman, 9.

Victor Jew

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Department of History

455 North Park Street

3211 George Mosse Humanities Building

Madison, WI 53703

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