The best-selling journalist and author of Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen unravels the little known history of San Francisco's 19th century trade of Chinese female sex slaves and the city's Occidental Mission Home, where white female abolitionists rescued these slaves and converted them to Christianity.
Ms. Siler doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial hierarchy of mission work ... In The White Devil’s Daughters, Ms. Siler offers readers a sympathetic if at times critical account of this largely unknown story. Her 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.
Using [a] scattershot approach to frame the work done by Cameron and other women at the Mission Home, [Siler] attempts to situate the group’s struggle in a broader context. To some degree, she succeeds. She focuses commendable attention on exemplary but overlooked figures ... However, it is in dealing with this larger context, and with the specifics of the battle against sex slavery itself, that The White Devil’s Daughters falls short. In her determination to avoid offenses against multiculturalism, Siler presents a less than comprehensive view of her subject. For instance, she fails to explore in depth the Chinatown community’s murky relationship with the sex slave trade and the criminal tongs (secret societies in some respects resembling the mafia) that controlled it ... Despite such omissions, 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 who worked alongside Cameron or blazed their own important trails. Readers who can see past the book’s ideological overlay will find it a solid introduction to an inspiring and, yes, heroic struggle against a barbaric practice.
...meticulously researched and inspiring ... Siler re-creates vivid scenes, from rescuing girls from brothels to intervening with smuggling right at the docks, showing how the women of the Mission Home used their moral compass to navigate the choppy waters of their time ... There was a danger of Siler penning a book where white women played too central a role in the narrative, but her attention to highlighting the contributions of the Chinese women, including Tien Fuh Wu, rescues the book from its potential white Christian savior narrative. One area that felt under-explored was the complicated nature of imposing Christianity upon the rescued Chinese women, yet the lack of available firsthand accounts from the Chinese women is likely the root cause of this area of the book feeling thin ... 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 ... Siler’s book is a terrific reminder of a how a life’s work is built: brick by brick.