In 1933, the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA) was founded in order to protect the civil rights of Chinese immigrants living in America, which initially mostly comprised Chinese laundry workers. Due to the restrictions of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, few occupations were available to the Chinese men who migrated to the US. During the early decades of the Act, one in four Chinese came to operate and work in hand laundries. At the start of the Great Depression, over 3,500 Chinese hand laundries were operating in New York City.
Chinese laundry workers endured long hours, working seven days a week, which entailed soaking, scrubbing, and ironing clothes with eight-pound irons entirely by hand for meager pay. The entire occupation became associated with the Chinese, which resulted in anti-Chinese discrimination. In an attempt to shut down Chinese hand laundries, the New York City Board of Aldermen passed a law, with the support of white laundry workers, who were angered by the lower prices charged by their Chinese competitors. This law required all city-based laundries to be operated by U.S. citizens and to post a $1,000 security bond. The CHLA was formed and managed to exempt Chinese from the citizenship rule and lower the bond to $100.
Fueled by patriotism, the CHLA passionately contributed to the Chinese war effort against Imperial Japan during World War II. The CHLA raised over 5,000 silver dollars to support the military, and additional funds solely for medical supplies. Taken in 1938, the image shows members of The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance standing proudly around an ambulance to be sent to China. The ambulance is emblazoned with the words, “The Heroic Defenders of China. From the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance, NY.”