Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Rose Livingston: The Angel of Chinatown

By Michelle Shocklee

My last two posts here on the blog have been about strong, courageous women who spent most of their lives helping to free girls and women caught in the dark underworld of prostitution. Josephine Butler lived in England in the late 1800s, and Katharine Bushnell was her American counterpart. The topic of forced prostitution isn't pleasant, yet sadly it remains relevant in 2021. Human trafficking continues to be a world-wide problem that involves millions of victims. 

Rose Livingston, circa 1913
In the early 1900s, young girls and women were being abducted and forced into prostitution in terrifying numbers. The courageous woman I'll share about today wasn't on onlooker who wanted to help. Rose Livingston was actually one of the victims. 

It's believed Rose was only ten years of age when she was taken from her home and transported to New York City's notorious Chinatown, an area known for prostitution and opium dens. There, she would become forcibly hooked on opium. The man who held her captive sexually abused her, and by the time Rose was sixteen, she'd given birth to two children. 

But unlike thousands of young women, then and now, Rose was rescued from the horrors she'd endured. A missionary, a person very much like Josephine and Katharine, learned of Rose's situation and helped her escape. With the help of her rescuer, her addiction to drugs came to an end. She was also introduced to the Christian faith. 

Rose Livingston dressed as a man

Rose could have walked away and tried to forget the nightmare she'd been forced to live, but she didn't. She knew she had to help others, in the same way she'd received help from the missionary. Rose became one of the most well-known and vocal opponents of prostitution and sexual slavery in New York City as well as other cities like Boston and Chicago. She often dressed as a man in order to gain entry into brothels, dance halls, and opium dens late into the night, seeking pre-teen girls who needed rescuing. She would befriend them, gain their trust, then help them escape.

Like Josephine Butler, Rose gained many enemies, including men involved in "white slavery" in Chinatown. While Josephine was never physically attacked, Rose endured many beatings as she worked to rescue young women. One beating left her jaw and face permanently injured. At one time, she was even shot.

Rose took the fight to the lawmakers and helped the Mann Act pass, an act named after Congressman James Robert Mann of Illinois. The act made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose". 

Rose became known as the "Angel of Chinatown." Upon rescuing a young girl, she would then work to help the victim recover the life they'd lost, or build a new one. She was also involved in the Women's Suffrage movement, believing that if women had the vote, more changes would come to improve women's lives. 

Although she was quoted as saying that she was still involved helping girls in 1950, she retired after 1937 and received a pension of $100 per month. She was cared for by neighbors who helped her obtain a supplemental Social Security pension and did chores for her. She particularly needed help once she started to lose her sight. She died on December 26, 1975 at 99 years of age. A rabbi conducted a Jewish service for her, and her friend, an Irish-Catholic, arranged for a mass in her memory.

The fight continues today, in 2021. I hope that by reading Rose's story, each of us looks deep within to find out how we can help bring freedom to victims all around the world. 

Will you join me in praying for them?

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at

*2021 Selah Awards Finalist*

Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.

As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?


  1. Thanks for your post. Rose sounds like an amazing woman.

  2. Thanks for sharing. What an incredible woman!! Your book Under the Tulip Tree sounds ver interesting...

  3. Thank for sharing about this brave young woman.