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Woman of the Week: Rose Livingston

For the Week of 2nd April through 8th April:

Rose Livingston is a woman so little known in the 21st century. In her time, she was a suffragist and advocate who strove to free prostitutes and other victims from the shackles of sexual slavery. She was known by the sobriquet of the Angel of Chinatown. A woman of strong character, Rose was badly beaten in 1912 when she helped a prostitute escape and thus sustained: “serious and permanent damage…a fracture…of the upper jaw bone which caused severe…persistent neuralgic pain both day and night…likewise causing the loss of all teeth of the upper jaw.”1

Rose’s Life

While not much is known about Rose Livingston, it is believed that she was born around 1885. Literally nothing is known about her childhood or adolescence. At one point in her life, she claimed she was abducted and forced into prostitution where she lived in the home of a Chinese man. It was there that she developed a severe drug problem. Fortunately, she was able to escape and experienced a Christian conversion not long after.

Having (allegedly) been a victim of sex trafficking herself, Rose Livingston made it her goal to help others in dire need. Particularly young women who were being sex trafficked. Working alongside Harriet Burton Laidlaw, Rose was an active figure in New York City’s Chinatown where she helped to free young Chinese and Caucasian girls from prostitution. Moreover, she played a role in the passing of the Mann Act, which was passed on June 25, 1910 and made interstate sex trafficking a federal crime. The Mann Act was officially enacted in 1912.

Issues with Rose’s Story

Rose sought to tell her story of slavery to others and actively spoke out to the public about it. While it was a jarring story, the issue is that there was no evidence to support its veracity. In addition, Rose’s story exemplified stereotypes that were necessary in the passing of the Mann Act: fear of and a complete vilification of foreigners (particularly Chinese men); drugging and abduction for rape and enslavement; a difficult escape; and redemption through Christian faith.

John Jackson with his wife, Lucille Cameron.

The Mann Act, although created to safeguard trafficked girls, sadly was misused. The law was also utilized to prosecute those involved in “unlawful” pre-marital, extra-marital, and interracial relationships. Renowned and prominent boxer of his day, Jack Johnson was unfairly prosecuted for his relationship with his Caucasian girlfriend, Lucille Cameron. The justification given was that he was travelling across state lines with her and thus the law somehow applied. Jack Johnson later married Lucille Cameron, the latter of which positively refused to cooperate with the prosecution. The cruel prosecution of Johnson is an indication of the intolerance that interracial couples faced during the turn of the century and exposes how federal laws were used to perpetuate bigotry.

 Later Life

It isn’t known when Rose Livingston passed away or how long she lived. What is known is that she participated in a Suffrage Hike from Manhattan to Albany, New York, in 1914. In 1929, she was given a gold medal by the National Institute of Social Science and she was said to be living in poverty just five years later. A retirement fund was created for the older Rose in response to her financial situation. Three years later, she was awarded the silver cup by Edith Claire Bryce of the Peace House for her peaceful deeds.

  1. Lui, Mary Ting Yi. “Saving Young Girls from Chinatown: White Slavery and Woman Suffrage, 1910–1920.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. 18.3 (September 2009): 24. Project Muse. http://muse.jhu.edu/article/270935. 6 April 2017.

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