In the late 19th century, a young Chinese girl named Tien Fuh Wu found herself in a nightmare. Sold to pay off her father’s gambling debt, she was shipped to San Francisco and forced into a life of servitude and brutality. As a child servant, Wu endured unimaginable abuse—beaten, burned, and cut. But her story is not just one of suffering; it is a story of extraordinary resilience, bravery, and an unwavering commitment to justice.

A Harrowing Beginning

1890s San Francisco was a city marked by stark contrasts of wealth and poverty, opportunity and exploitation. Chinatown, where Wu was enslaved, was a microcosm of these extremes. Amidst its vibrant culture and bustling streets, a darker reality lurked—one of human trafficking and indentured servitude.

Wu’s early life was marked by relentless hardship until a ray of hope appeared. Members of the Presbyterian Mission Home, a rescue mission dedicated to saving girls from such fates, intervened and rescued Wu from her tormentors. This mission became Wu’s sanctuary and eventually her platform for a lifetime of advocacy and rescue work.

A Life Dedicated to Liberation

After her rescue, Tien Fuh Wu did not retreat into anonymity. Instead, she channeled her trauma into a powerful force for good. When Donaldina Cameron became the Superintendent of the home, Wu worked as her aide, dedicating her life to freeing Chinese immigrant women and girls from the chains of sexual slavery and indentured servitude. Her fluency in Cantonese allowed her to communicate effectively with trafficked women, offering them comfort and hope in their darkest hours.

Wu’s role at the Presbyterian Mission Home was multifaceted. She was not only a translator and advocate but also a fierce protector. Accompanying Cameron on perilous rescue missions, Wu displayed extraordinary bravery. The work was dangerous, and threats of violence were a constant. Wu, being Chinese, faced even greater peril as she was seen as a traitor by the brothel owners who viewed her actions as a direct threat to their operations.

The Face of Courage

The threats against Tien Fuh Wu were so severe that after each major rescue, Donaldina Cameron would prevent her from going out alone for weeks, fearing for her safety. Yet, Wu’s spirit remained unbroken. She continued to work tirelessly for over 50 years, making public appearances to raise funds and awareness while also addressing the complex immigration issues faced by the women in their care.

One of Wu’s significant roles was acting as a travel guardian for women who had testified against slave dealers. These women, vulnerable to retaliation, found a steadfast protector in Wu, who they affectionately called “Auntie Wu.” Her dedication ensured their safety and helped many transition to new lives free from fear and exploitation.

Legacy of Compassion and Strength

Tien Fuh Wu’s legacy is one of compassion, strength, and an unyielding fight for justice. Her life’s work not only saved countless lives but also highlighted the pervasive issues of human trafficking and exploitation. Wu’s story serves as a powerful reminder of the impact one person can have in the fight against injustice.

Today, as we reflect on her contributions, we honor Tien Fuh Wu not just as a survivor, but as a hero who turned her pain into a beacon of hope for others. Her bravery and dedication continue to inspire and remind us of the importance of standing up against oppression, no matter the personal cost.