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Women in the Church

Historical Documentation Project Flyer in English Historical Documentation Project Flyer in Chinese

Anti-Chinese immigration laws in the late-19th century and the first half of the 20th century effectively limited the Chinese community in the United States to a "bachelor society" of male laborers, and the few Chinese women in the country were paradoxically both valued and victimized. The Presbyterian Church in Chinatown and its partner-in-mission Donaldina Cameron House were sensitized to the politics of gender during these early days and, and with the support of women at churches across the country, sought to provide a safe space for immigrant women in the local community.

Ever since that initial period, women have played crucial leadership roles in shaping the church. On the one hand, they have guided the church as elders, deacons, teachers, and committee and fellowship chairpersons, and on the other hand, they have sustained the church community by performing "invisible" work essential to the everyday function of the church. Such early organizing efforts as the Golden Circle Club have evolved into today's Women's Fellowships among the English-speaking and Mandarin-speaking congregants and the Ling Sung Fellowship among the Cantonese-speaking congregants. These organizations at the local-church level are, in turn, connected to Presbyterian Women, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s women's organization at the national level.

Heidi and Mikayla Wong

Heidi and Mikayla Wong.

Golden Circle Club group picture

The Golden Circle Club — with its motto, "Girls for Christ" — was a precursor of the several women's fellowships of the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown. Active circa 1920s–1930s, the club offered its members social activities, but its primary orientation was towards service projects, including the organization of an Intermediate Society for younger girls and boys, the refurbishing of a young people's activities room at the church, and the presentation of fundraising operettas.

Mandarin Women's Fellowship before a choral performance

The Women's Fellowship of the Mandarin ministry gathers monthly and supports the pastor and elders of the Mandarin congregation in such efforts as visitation and care of clerical vestments. Here, members of the group are gathered for a choral performance on Mother's Day. (Photo: 2001.)

Ling Sung in ca. 1970

In the early 1940s Ling Sung was formed as the women's fellowship of the Chinese Presbyterian Church. It has continued until the present day as the women's fellowship of the Cantonese ministry, and three of its members are seen here — circa 1970 — singing at one of the weekly gatherings of the Senior Center, a community outreach ministry organized by the Cantonese congregation.

Laurene Chan and the Rev. Calvin Chinn singing

Elder Laurene Chan — pictured here next to the Rev. Calvin Chinn — was Staff Associate at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown from 1997 to 2000. Bringing with her seven years of experience directing youth ministries at the Presbyterian mission organization Donaldina Cameron House, Chan was responsible for starting an all-church children's ministry at PCC. In 2000, her work in the church at the local and national levels was recognized by an invitation to preach at the 212th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Long Beach, CA. (Photo: 2001.)

Women's Fellowship in 1992

As part of its work of nurturing women in the church, the Women's Fellowship of the English ministry holds annual retreats with programming led by guest speakers, including such luminaries as Betty Friedan. In this photograph from 1992, the group is gathered for its retreat at Donaldina Cameron House's Lo Mo Lodge in Marin County.

Joy Kao

Joy Kao, a part of the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown since 1980, has served as an elder for sixteen years, including leading the Mandarin Commission as its Clerk and leading the entire church as Chairwoman of a Pastor Nominating Committee and as Treasurer for the Church Building Remodeling Fund. An example of how the church's leaders assume many roles, Kao is also the Mandarin congregation's Choir Director and teaches Sunday School. (Photo: 2001.)

Women's Fellowship in 1991

The Women's Fellowship of the English ministry, which was founded in 1951 as Business and Professional Women ("B" Girls), celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1991. In this photograph, members of the Women's Fellowship are gathered together at the end of 1991 for the annual December luncheon, a time of celebration, hymn-singing, and reflection shared with members of the women's fellowships from the Cantonese and Mandarin congregations.

Wendy Lam with artwork

Elder Wendy Lam, a member of the Session Christian Education Committee, displays artwork produced by Church School students. (Photo: 2001.)

Sabrina Cheng and Virginia Mei singing

Elders Sabrina Cheng and Virginia Mei sing in the Mandarin ministry's choir. (Photo: 2001.)

Sunny Hee in a fashion show Connie Lee in a fashion show Bernice Wong in a fashion show



In the early 1950s the Business and Professional Women fellowship of the English ministry put on fashion shows during the annual Carnival at the Presbyterian mission organization Donaldina Cameron House. Seen here are (L to R) Sunny Hee, Connie Lee, and Bernice Wong.

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