In 1900, San Francisco’s population was 95 percent white and only 4 percent Chinese, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Chinatowns were – and continue to be – shelters for an immigrant community who has been historically marginalized.
Photographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries flocked to Chinatown to capture images of this vibrant cultural enclave. Many of their photos ended up on postcards that generally circulated among a white, middle-class audience. Some photos promote racial stereotypes, but they also show what life was like in the community.