Cameron House’s Women’s Guild had its formal beginning on May 22, 1967, when a “Yum Cha” was held, a short set of by-laws were presented and accepted, and the first officers were elected.
A Very Brief History
Cameron House’s Women’s Guild had its formal beginning on May 22, 1967, when a “Yum Cha” was held, a short set of by-laws were presented and accepted, and the first officers were elected. Approximately one hundred women were present that day, as the meeting was called to order with prayer by Mrs. Lucille Wilson (President of the Presbyterial).
In the past fifty years, the Guild has been an ardent supporter of Cameron House, helping to fund unexpected needs (i.e., blankets for Light the Night or purchasing a new copier for us) and lend a hand. Not only have they financially supported our programs, they’ve volunteered more hours than can be possibly be counted. For many years they lovingly sewed hundreds of Summer Camp scarves for all the Day Campers. They were the movers and shakers behind Carnival, spending hours sorting, cleaning, and pricing all the White Elephant items; providing homemade baked goods to sell; and then working from the wee hours of the morning until midnight every first Saturday in May.
A half a century has quickly passed, and Cameron House has had the joy of working with these remarkable, strong women. To celebrate their devotion, we had a farewell Yum Cha on October 30th. Approximately fifty people were present to honor the Guild members and the amazing work they accomplished. Sharlene Hall, Mary Wong Leong, and Doreen Der-McLeod shared their memories of Cameron House and the Guild – evoking laughter one moment and tears the next. As Doreen pointed out, “Cameron House was started for women, by women.” And these women who have graced our lives and our programs have also left a remarkable legacy to Chinatown. We appreciate their love, support, commitment, and prayers so generously given to the people we serve and our Cameron House staff throughout these fifty years.
(Yum Cha is a Cantonese phrase meaning “drink tea.”)
Memories of the Cameron House Guild, by Shar Hall
I went to Cameron House when the mission home was located at 144 Wetmore St in the mid 1940’s — where Miss Mae Wong taught Bible stories in the garage using paper cutout figures on a flannel board. I learned lots of Old Testament names, like King Nebuchadnezzar, and stories about God and Jesus.
I was a teenager in junior high when Cameron House moved back to 920 where I “grew up” (being nurtured in the Presbyterian “Faith & Life” curriculum) and learned leadership skills, serving as Club Leader and Church School Teacher.
Our Chinatown church worked closely with the Cameron House Guild every year for Cameron Carnival. Ladies from the East Bay, Peninsula, and San Francisco churches would help by donating money from their own church bazaars or bringing carloads of “stuff” to sell — weeks before the first Saturday in May. The White Elephant sale got so big it moved to the church basement!
We sorted, cleaned, and priced all kinds of knick-knacks, kitchenware, dishes, and glassware. I can still picture Kay Hargreaves from Oakland First, bent over the tables, sorting, cleaning and pricing all kinds of things; Mary Ostrander and Betty Partridge from Lafayette-Orinda stocking the bookshelves in the side yard, and all the ladies from Menlo, Burlingame, and the Peninsula — bringing in potted plants and quilts to sell, and cleaning, pricing, and carding all kinds of jewelry.
Best of all, all the Guild ladies brought in wonderful baked goodies on Friday and Saturday before Carnival opened at 11:00 am. It was going to be a busy, fun day!
On Friday night all the youth finished building their concession booths and making all the handmade prizes — the mad rush of hammering, painting, and trial runs had to be done before 10:00 pm so the neighbors could have a peaceful night.
On that first Saturday in May, the Guild ladies arrived with their aprons and comfy shoes, ready for a full day’s hard work, fun, and fellowship! These ladies were the leaders and backbones of their suburban churches, getting out from their comfortable pews to be active participants in mission in Chinatown, San Francisco’s inner city.
Carnival opened at 11:00 am and closed at 9:00 pm — by midnight everything was cleared, cleaned, packed away — you’d never know that there was a Carnival there that day!
I know many of you have gone to the Women’s Gathering — in my day it was the Women’s Triennium. As a youth member of the National Missions Mosaic choir, the Presbytery of San Francisco sent me to the meeting at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. I rode on the California Zephyr train to Chicago, where I was met by Miss Mae Wong. She got us a cab, but I was too scared to get in — the driver was hot and sweaty, and wearing a sleeveless undershirt. Our Yellow Cab drivers in San Francisco wore white dress shirts, black bowties, and yellow caps with black trim! CULTURE SHOCK! Miss Wong assured me it was quite ok –the weather is very hot and muggy in Chicago during summer, so that was normal dress code for them.
This was my first trip out of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the majority of people were Chinese — so it was quite an experience to be a minority among 5,000 mostly white-haired white ladies. Many had never seen the likes of me before — so I was asked many times, “What tribe are you from?” They had seen Native Americans, Latinos, and African Americans but few Asians back in the mid-fifties.
The highlight of that Triennium was the ending worship/communion service. In the auditorium of over 5,000 women, communion was served in “decency & order” while Mahalia Jackson, in passion and reverence, sang “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” It was the most moving spiritual experience I’d ever had.
So my memories today have been a mixture of my experiences at Cameron House with the Guild, Presbyterian Women, and the Chinatown church. My lifetime membership in the Guild is one that will be cherished.
Please join us as we honor the Women’s Guild & Staff Liason to Guild, Mary Wong Leong at our Soul & Elegance Gala on Saturday, February 10th. Check our Gala page in mid-December to register!