While major American cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Boston were home to large Chinese populations in the early twentieth century, Chinese people in the entire state of Maine totaled little over one hundred, most of whom operated laundries.
Toy Len Chin (1892-1993) of Guangdong, China moved Maine at the age of 29, three years after her 1919 proxy marriage to Dogon Goon, a laundryman from Portland. While she waited for her new husband to be able to afford to arrange their travels to America, she hand stitched her trousseau—including four “mud silk” suits she brought with her to Maine in 1921.
Toy Len’s immigration as a Chinese woman was a rarity, because the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—which barred Chinese immigration—was still in place. Chinese people already in the U.S. could stay, but were prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens, and from bringing wives and families to America to join them. Non-citizens who left the U.S. could not return.
Dogan Goon served as a private in U.S. Army Medical Department in World War I. He enlisted June 24, 1918 and was honorably discharged on January 13, 1919.
Even though Chinese immigrants were not allowed to become U.S. citizens because of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, they served in the armed forces.
Goon came to Portland around 1914, and later arrested for violating the Chinese Exclusion Act. His case went to trial, where he gained permission to stay in the U.S. by convincing the courts he had been born in California (although he was likely born in China.) His citizenship status was reconfirmed after this discharge from the Army.
This new standing made it possible to return to China and marry Toy Len, the bride selected by his family and a matchmaker.
Toy Len Goon's mud silk tunic and pant suit, Guangdong, ca. 1920
Item 102762 info
Maine Historical Society
Toy Len Goon hand-stitched this outfit from "mud silk" fabric, so-called because during the finishing process the brown dyed woven silk is spread on the ground and the top surface is coated with Guangdong’s iron-rich Pearl River mud. This creates a glossy black surface on the fabric face, leaving a brown color on the reverse.
Mud silk fabric is particular to the South China Guangdong region where Toy Len Goon lived. Mud silk is a practical work fabric; a step below elite silks, but more expensive than the ordinary indigo blue cotton peasants typically wore.
Toy Len Goon brought this outfit to Portland from China after her marriage to Dogan Goon.
Once in Portland, Toy Len Goon put away her Chinese clothes and dressed like her Woodfords Corner neighbors, in American-style cotton clothes she made with a sewing machine.
Located in Portland's Woodfords Corner neighborhood the Goon laundry operated from about 1915 to 1952. Dogon Goon died in 1941 leaving Toy Len with eight children ranging from 3 to 17 years of age. By herself, Toy Len Goon continued to operate the laundry and raise their five sons and three daughters.
All of Toy Len and Dogon Goon's children attended college and became professionals. Dr. Edward Goon said of his childhood,
"Mother came from a farming family and had no formal education, but she understood all the important aspects of bringing up children. She encouraged us to study hard and to enter professions. She did not want us to work in the laundry for a livelihood."
Toy Len Goon used this electric iron in her Portland laundry in the 1950s. She and her husband, Dogon Goon, operated the laundry and raised their children in the Woodfords area of Portland.
This type of soap was used to wash the clothes in Toy Len Goon's laundry at Woodford's Corner in Portland.
The Goons had eight children. Dogan Goon died in 1941 and Toy Len Goon raised the children and operated the laundry herself.
In 1952, Clara Soule, a former teacher at the Americanization school in Portland, nominated Toy Len for a "Mother of the Year" award in Maine to help spread Goon's immigration success story.
Goon won, and was later named American Mother of the Year. Toy Len Goon became a U.S. citizen in 1968.
As Mother of the Year in 1952, Toy Len Goon visited Washington, D.C., and was received by Bess Truman at the White House.
Chiang Kai-shek, president of the Republic of China, painted this scroll for Toy Len Goon in celebration of her 80th birthday. The main character on the scroll is "longevity."
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