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As It Was: Mrs. Wah Chung’s life in Ashland

The everyday lives of Chinese residents in the State of Jefferson in the late 19th century is not well known. But Mabel Roach Dunlop’s remembrance of Mrs. Wah Chung’s life in Ashland, Oregon, gives some clues.

Mrs. Wah Chung had come from China as a bride. Her bound feet were a sign of a high social class. In Ashland, she had servants to cook and clean, and her husband carried her whenever they went out.

She used a sewing machine, but her crippled feet meant a servant had to operate the treadle. Though she could speak English, she could not write it.

Mrs. Wah Chung wore elegant silk and brocade pants and coats. On one occasion she let Dunlop and her sister wear her clothes and jewelry to a masquerade party. Later they learned the jewelry was worth a fortune.

One of the happiest events of Mrs. Wah Chung’s life was the birth of a son. Gongs and firecrackers announced the celebration. She sat in a silk-sheeted bed and ate tidbits from a huge feast to which everyone was invited.

To the locals, Mrs. Wah Chung lived an exotic life. But to her Chinese contemporaries, her life here would have been much like what it would have been in China.

Source: Dunlop, Mabel Roach, as told to Bernice Gillespie, “Local Woman Recalls Days of the Chinese in Ashland,” Ashland Daily Tidings, Oct. 7, 1964. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

Photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Historical Society, image No. 11137These two children may be Jenny and Sammy, the adopted children of Ashland merchant, Wah Chung. The photo serves as a rare image of the home interior of a Chinese immigant circa 1910.