WHO  Julia Flynn Siler in conversation with Dora Linda Wang

WHAT A conversation with Dora Linda Wang about Julia Flynn Siler’s new book The White Devil’s Daughter’s

WHEN September 14, 2019 6:00pm 

WHERE Collected Works Bookstore

about the book

An eye-opening account of the valiant work of a handful of Christian women against the enslavement of Asian girls in San Francisco’s Chinatown from the mid-1870s well into the next century. 

In her latest impressive work of research and storytelling, San Francisco–based journalist and author Siler (Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure, 2012, etc.) delves vigorously into a shocking story of racism and oppression. Well past California’s ratification of the 13th Amendment, the white male authorities largely looked the other way when boatloads of Chinese girls and vulnerable other women arrived as cargo from overseas and were quickly corralled into work as prostitutes and indentured servants. Most were tricked by unscrupulous relatives and agents into voyaging to America. They were valuable fodder to feed the “pent-up demand for sex” by the solitary male Chinese workers who had been lured in great numbers by the gold rush of 1848 as well as those who fled the turmoil in South China’s Pearl River delta region in the 1860s. The notorious brothels of Chinatown also attracted a considerable white clientele. Rising first to meet the need of girls and women who managed to escape their horrific fates were the wives of Presbyterian missionaries, part of the surge of Christian evangelism at the time known as the Great Awakening. From their modest Presbyterian Mission House on Sacramento Street, on the edge of Chinatown, these brave women, especially the house’s superintendent, Margaret Culbertson, sheltered the refugees, defying their gangster handlers; taught them skills such as reading and sewing; served as their advocates and translators in court; and often arranged for them respectable marriages to Chinese men, one of their few options in America. Siler vividly portrays both the vibrant, violent milieu of Chinatown of the era—amid the fear and hatred of the Chinese by whites and the effects of laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—and the lives anddedication of the extraordinary women of the Mission House.

Julia Flynn Siler

Julia Flynn Siler is a New York Times best-selling author and journalist. Her new book, The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Against Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in May of 2019. The New York TimesBook Review named it an “Editors’ Choice.” She is also the author of Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure and the The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty.

As a veteran correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek magazine, Ms. Siler spent more than two decades in the Europe and the United States, reporting from a dozen countries. She has covered fields as varied as biotechnology, cult wines, puppy breeding, and a princess’s quest to restore a Hawaiian palace’s lost treasures.

A graduate in American Studies at Brown University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Ms. Siler began her career as a staff correspondent for BusinessWeek, working in the magazine’s Los Angeles and Chicago bureaus. She wrote stories on everything from White Castle “sliders” to the roiling futures markets for the New York Times. By taking classes at night during that time, she earned an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

In 1993, she was awarded a fellowship to teach business journalism in Prague, where she organized a speaker series at the Center for Independent Journalism, a not-for-profit organization supported in part by the New York Times Foundation. Ms. Siler then served as a London-based staff correspondent for BusinessWeek, where she was a member of BusinessWeek reporting teams that won a National Magazine Award, a Deadline Club award, as well as other honors.

As a longtime London-based foreign correspondent, she wrote about family business dynasties, millionaire dons at Oxford and Cambridge, and Virgin founder Richard Branson, among other subjects. Toward the end of her years in London, she joined the Wall Street Journal as its European management correspondent, traveling throughout the region to report stories. During that time, she did post-graduate work in finance at the London Business School. After returning to the U.S., one of the first articles she wrote for the Wall Street Journal was about the turmoil within the Mondavi family’s wine empire. It ran as a front page story in June of 2004.

That story led to her book The House of Mondavi, published by Penguin’s Gotham Books in 2007. A New York Times bestseller, it was honored as a finalist both for a James Beard Award and a Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished reporting and is now in its twelfth printing. Over the years, Ms. Siler wrote many feature stories for the Wall Street Journal out of its San Francisco bureau, and helped produce WSJ.com videos to accompany some of these stories.

Her critically acclaimed second book, Lost Kingdom, was also a New York Times bestseller. Ms. Siler was a 2013 recipient of the Ella Dickey Literacy Award, named in honor of a beloved librarian, and was honored at a ceremony in Missouri in April, 2013. In August of 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Ms. Flynn Siler a “Public Scholar” grant for 2016-2017 to support her forthcoming book, “The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown.”

In June of 2017, the Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism announced that Ms. Siler had been awarded a Mayborn Fellowship in Biography to support her new book. She was also named a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Greater Good, where she spent the fall of 2017 completing her manuscript. Ms. Siler is a longtime member of the San Francisco-based writing group North 24thWriters, whose members have published fourteen nonfiction books as well as hundreds of articles and essays in major magazines, newspapers and literary journals. She  is also a member of the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto.

She has taught journalism at the University of London’s Birkbeck college and leads nonfiction workshops at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley as a staff member. She has appeared as a commentator on the BBC, CBS, CNBC, National Public Radio, and elsewhere. She has worked as an on-call producer for KQED’s Forum. Her stories and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Oxford Encyclopedia on Food and Drink in America.

She served two terms on the alumni board of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and currently serves on the boards of San Francisco-based Litquake Foundation, which produces an annual literary festival and year-round events, and on the board of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She is also in her second term as a member of the Council of the Friends of the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley. She is a nonfiction juror for the Commonwealth Club’s California Book Awards. She was born in Palo Alto, California in 1960 and she and her family live in Northern California, where they are frequent visitors to their local public libraries. Photo by: Abigayle Tarsches


Dora Linda Wang has been the recipient of a Lannan Foundation writers residency and a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. She is President of the Caucus of Asian American Psychiatrists for the American Psychiatric Association, and the author of “The Kitchen Shrink: A Psychiatrist’s Reflections on Healing in a Changing World” (Riverhead/Penguin Random House, 2010).

  • 1