Early Chinese Laundries in North Carolina

Image

NC laundry rev map

Chinese laundries across the state of North Carolina in the late 19th and early 20th century sometimes received newspaper coverage. Some stories simply reported the opening or relocation of a laundry, while others dealt with human interest accounts of  some of the laundrymen and their lives. Some laundries paid for small advertisements of their services and prices in some towns. Other articles covered grim topics such as a suicide, homicide, assault, or robbery as well as gambling or drug and narcotics use and sales.  These articles provide evidence of the extent of Chinese laundry presence in this part of the country that is greater than what census records might suggest.  For example, in 1900, 37 Chinese were listed in the census, almost all were in laundry work, but usually 4 or 5 men (often listed as sons, cousins, brothers, nephews) worked at a given laundry.  Thus, one might expect  no more than 10 laundries using this staffing estimate. A 1913 International Business Directory of Chinese businesses listed only two Chinese laundries in North Carolina but that is misleading because a fee was probably required for listings.

Some Places Welcomed Chinese and Their Laundries

In 1879 at a time when Chinese and their laundries were generally reviled across the U. S. and Canada, there were places which welcomed them.  For example, in Milan, TN., the local paper opined how welcome a Chinese laundry would be and hoped one would come to town.

Milan TN 1879After the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law passed, illegal Chinese were subject to arrest and deportation. When some smuggled Chinese laundrymen in Augusta, GA. were apprehended in 1904, people in nearby Edgefield, SC.  were encouraged by the hope that some Chinese laundrymen would come to their community to replace their “very unreliable” washer-women

edgefiled welcome

 

Edgefield soon got its wish, but didn’t need to have one of the Chinese dispatched from Augusta.  The news was that John Wing, of Savannah, an experienced laundryman of 17 years had already ordered improved machinery for the opening of Edgefield’s first Chinese laundry shortly.

edgefield sc 2Madison, Florida welcomed “a full fledged Chinese laundry” operated by “Wun Lung” (supposedly his name) from China scheduled to open in a few days.

1908 madison FL

 

In 1914, Welch, West Virginia, was delighted to “at last” have Sam Kee open a Chinese laundry next to the livery stable.

 

1914 bluefiled w va

 

In 1884, just after the Chinese Exclusion law went into effect, Winston (later, Winston-Salem) NC was eager to have a Chinese laundry so that it could show what an ethnic diversity they had, according to a newspaper report in the Weekly Raleigh Register.  The article showed that Winston already had “Canadians…Jews… Indians… but lacked “the pig-tailed celestial.”

1884 Winston NC brag report in Ralleigh paperThey could also have bragging rights if they had the first Chinese laundry in North Carolina.

Although Chinese laundrymen were being driven out of western states at the end of the 19th century, they increasingly moved to the South and East in search of better places to set up business which welcomed them, even if for questionable motives.