Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance

Identification: Labor union formed to protect Chinese workers in New York City

Date: Founded in 1933

Significance: The alliance successfully defeated anti-Chinese legislation in New York City during the 1930’s. Although hand laundries no longer exist, the organization continued to support the civil rights of Chinese Americans into the twenty-first century.

Because few jobs were available to Chinese Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, about 25 percent of Chinese American men worked in laundries. The work was difficult, but there was a steady need for it and many Chinese Americans found that they could make a modest living running their own small hand laundry business. When the Great Depression began, New York City alone had more than three thousand laundries run by Chinese Americans, and European Americans, struggling with the poor economy, felt that the Chinese laundries were a threat. A New York City law passed in 1933 required owners of laundries to be U.S. citizens. To provide a unified voice in opposition, the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance was formed and successfully fought to repeal the law. The group published a newspaper, the China Daily News, beginning in 1940, and continued to organize in support of the rights of Chinese Americans and to lobby the federal government in matters of foreign policy.

Cynthia A. Bily

Further Reading

  • Bao, Xiaolan. Holding Up More Than Half the Sky: Chinese Women Garment Workers in New York City, 1948-92. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001. 
  • Yu, Renqiu. To Save China, to Save Ourselves: The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992. 
  • Yung, Judy, Gordon H. Chang, and H. Mark Lai. Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. 

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Asian immigrants; Chinese American press; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese immigrants; Chinese laundries; Great Depression; Labor unions; YickWo v. Hopkins.

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