1885 One Hundred Years Ago

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On September 2, the men and women of Rock Springs, Wyoming, a bleak coalmining town south of the Tetons, loaded their guns and descended on the local Chinese community. A number of Chinese had recently been hired to work in the mines there, and whites felt that their jobs were endangered. In the chaos that ensued, twenty-eight Chinese were killed. Over five hundred others fled into the hills, and their homes were burned behind them.

The Rock Springs massacre was by no means an isolated incident. Since the early 187Os, Chinese had endured bitter oppression in the West. Labor leaders and politicians declared that they accepted substandard wages and were thus to blame for white unemployment. Chinese were lynched and their employers persecuted. In state after state, local ordinances were passed, forbidding the Chinese everything from owning property to using sidewalks. In 1879 the California constitution was rewritten to say that Chinese were “dangerous to the well-being of the State,” decreeing further that “the Legislature shall delegate all necessary power” to towns “for removal of Chinese.” In 1882 Congress passed the Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese who “engaged in mining” from coming to America. That year, thirtynine thousand Chinese entered the country. Four years later, only forty were accepted.

In this atmosphere, the residents of Rock Springs undoubtedly felt their actions were justified. Others must have thought so, too, for in many Western towns through the turn of the century, mobs drove Chinese from their homes. In the face of such virulent hatred, thousands sailed back across the Pacific. In the late 1880s there were reportedly 110,000 Chinese living in the West. Thirty years later, about 60,000 remained.

•August 10: The first commercially operated electric streetcars begin running, in Baltimore, Maryland.

•September 17: Women are barred from Western Reserve Medical school.