Did You Know The First Asian American Female Authors Were Biracial Sisters?

Eaton sisters

Image From National Women’s History Museum


March is Women’s History Month, and I recently interviewed Sen. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) for BlogHer. We talked about their bipartisan proposal for a National Women’s History Museum, which currently exists only as a website with profiles of different chapters of female achievements in America. As I browsed the site, I found some very interesting things, such as the section about early Chinese American women.

In that section, I found a tidbit I’d never heard of before. According to the NWHM site, the first Asian American female authors were the mixed race Eaton sisters. Edith Maude Eaton, who used the pen name Sui Sin Far, and Winifred Eaton, who went by the Japanese-sounding pseudonym Onoto Watanna (presumably to escape the anti-Chinese sentiment of the late 1800s).


Leaves From the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian by Sui Sin Far

from the National Women’s History Museum

I am living in a little town way off on the north shore of a big lake.  Next to me at the dinner table is the man for whom I work as a stenographer.  There are also a couple of business men, a young girl, and her mother.

Someone makes a remark about the cars full of Chinamen that passed that morning. A Transcontinental railway runs thru [sic] the town.

My employer shakes his rugged head.  “Somehow or other, “says he, I cannot reconcile myself to the thought that the Chinese are humans like ourselves. They may have immortal souls, but their faces seem to be so utterly devoid of expression that I cannot help but doubt”

“Souls,” echoes the town clerk. “Their bodies are enough for me.   A Chinaman is, in my eyes …repulsive.”

“They always give me such a creepy feeling,” puts in the young girl with a laugh.

“I wouldn’t have one in my house,” declares my landlady….

A miserable, cowardly feeling keeps me silent.  I am in a Middle West town. If I declare what I am, every person in the place will hear about it the next day.  The population is in the main made up of working folks with strong prejudices against my mother’s countrymen.  The prospect before me is not an enviable one – if I speak. I have no longer an ambition to die at the stake for the sake of demonstrating the greatness and nobleness of the Chinese people.

Mr. K turns to me with a kindly smile. “What makes Miss Far so quiet?”

“I don’t suppose she finds the ‘washee, washee men’ particularly interesting subjects of conversation, “volunteers the young manager of the local bank.

With great effort I raise my eyes from my plate.  “Mr. K.,” I say, addressing my employer, “the Chinese people may have no souls, no expression on their face, be altogether beyond the pale of civilization, but whatever they are, I want you to understand that I am—I am a Chinese.”



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