Chicago’s First Chinese Laundry?

Chicago's First Chinese Laundry?

A small news item in 1869 reported that Chicago was not only about to get a Chinese laundry, but a great one. Chicago merchants were recruiting 100 men from San Francisco, where many Chinese men work as house-servants in place of Irish women, referred to as “Bridgets.” However, in Paul Siu’s authoritative research, The Chinese Laundryman, the first Chicago Chinese laundry at 167 West Madison Street did not appear until 1872, a year following the Great Fire.  Perhaps, that date is close enough to the originally predicted date with the fire   delaying the planned 1869 opening.
Chinese laundries grew rapidly in Chicago as in other places across the country. Siu reported that Chicago had 18 Chinese laundries in 1874-5,  and that number doubled by the end of the decade. However, the growth did not mean that the Chinese were welcome. Often easy targets of assault and robbery, the laundryman did not have an easy life.
One of the more unusual and sinister attacks on laundrymen occurred in Chicago in 1884 when five young girls, aged 14-16, who called themselves “The Chinese Five” chloroformed Chinese laundrymen before robbing them.  They were arrested and fined $100 each, which was suspended on condition of good behavior. A number of Chinamen were arrested as well, presumably because some of the girls admitted “visiting Chinamen” in the back of the laundries while the others chloroformed and robbed the proprietors.

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08/08/2013 · 8:23 pm

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