Photo Still from The Limehouse Blues, 1931
In 1894, A Chinese woman named Ah Toy landed in San Francisco, tall willowy in shape and beautiful to the eye she was a instant sensation. She had left China with her husband who died a few weeks into the voyage, she became the captains mistress. Once the voyage was over it did not take long for her to notice how the men of San Francisco followed her with hungry eyes.
She rented a two room house, built a stage in one room with a partition that had hole cut into it. She hired a couple of big Chinese Men to stand guard and collect one ounce of gold for a short show. Dressed in a fine silk gown, slit to her waist on each side and nude underneath she would twist and turn a make exotic moves, she soon had the men stomping and shouting. Soon the block was lined with men standing line and shouting for their turn. Business was so good she soon rented several more places,. Chinese women were hired too preform in shifts, twenty four hours a day. However many men started paying in brass instead of gold causing Ah Toy to rethink he options.
Soon she was sending agents back to China to purchase unsuspecting females and importing them by the ship load. She would select the best and most desirable ones for her self and sell the rest a auction. Some were bought by gentlemen to be used until they tired of them, then they would resale them when the novelty wore off. These unfortunates had no say in their future, and no protection. After the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished it did not apply to the wretched creatures. They were not considered as human, not until 1910 with The Mann act made it illegal to transport women over state lines for immoral purposes, did any legislation exist. But Chinese slave girls lasted into the 1920′s.
Ah Toy after picking the girls for her own purposes, would often turn the other women over to the captain and the crew to break them in. Many of these girls ranged from 11 to 22 years in age. Their lives were embarking on a road of living hell. Before being sold the vast majority were herded into a vast underground vault known as the Queen’s Room. Here they were under the supervision of older prostitutes who were of no value on the street. These older women taught the younger girls how to please men, and were taught to sing,”Chinese Girls very nice, you come inside please, I make you very happy.” Hard word’s for a 11 year old to intone.