“Our Good Laundryman:” Harry Lum

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Harry Lum, probable friend to all, but close to no one, was a man that lived on the edges of the Newton community, providing a much needed service as “our good laundry man” for close to 30 years. He also had the distinction of being Newton’s first, and for many years, only person from China.

In 1880, 26 year old Harry was a miner in Humboldt, California.  At the time, he was living in the household of Po Bar with a group of six other men, all from China. Harry must not have enjoyed mining as within three years he was living in Newton, Kansas. He married 22 year old Beckie Swader on May 29.


Chinese Laundry: Harry Lum, Prop.

Newton Daily Republican, 22 August 1888

In January 1884, the Lums opened a “new Chinese laundry” in Newton at their home at 116 W 4th. The Weekly Democrat noted that he “comes well recommended, and guarantees satisfaction.”

Tired of ‘Wedded Bliss.”

Shortly after their marriage, the Lums began to have trouble. The Newton Daily Republican reported that “Harry Lum, the celestial who presides over the washee [sic] house on West Fifth street, has commenced suit for a divorce.” Rebecca “Beckie” Lum, described as a “lady of color,” was accused of “infidelity, abuse, gross neglect of wifely duties, frequent absences from home and finally abandonment” when she went to Sterling and had not returned “to his knowledge.”

By December 1886, the marriage was over and Lum put a notice in the Newton Daily Republican indicating that Beckie Lum had deserted him and “not to trust her on my account.”

Newton Daily Republican, 9 November 1886

A year later, Lum married Alice (or Alize) Plice. Alice, a colored woman born in Kentucky in 1853, was also divorced from her first husband, Abraham Taylor, of Sedgwick County.

The Newton Kansan described the marriage ceremony:

Harry Lum, a Chinaman without a queue and Alice Plice, a colored woman with out bangs, were licensed to marry to-day.”

Newton Kansan, 1 December 1887

There are brief mentions of Harry in the late 1880s. On November 10, 1887, the Newton Kansan reported that a drunken soldier went to Lum’s laundry and “raised ‘peculia hellee’ to use the language of the excited Chinaman” [sic] when reporting the crime. He was also mentioned in the obituary of Mrs. Lucy Russell, who was “dearly loved and greatly respected by those of her race,” and the mother of his second wife Alice.

“Renounced Allegiance to Chinese Empire”

The Newton Daily Republican reported in February 1889 that Harry Lum “our good laundry man . . .who was born and reared in the Celestial Empire . . renounced allegiance to Chinese Empire” and became an American citizen. The editor noted that Mr. Lum “has always borne a good reputation and will not abuse the privilege this day conferred upon him.”

Even though Lum became a US citizen, he was still subject to the anti-immigration laws focused on the Chinese in the 1880s and 1890s. The Weekly Republican reported in the November 18, 1892 issue that “Revenue Collector McCanse . . . was here to secure a photograph of Harry Lum, our sole Chinese resident.” 

 In 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act  was enacted, however it was only valid for 10 years. The Geary Act in 1892  extended the exclusion of Chinese laborers for another decade. The Act required Chinese residents in the U.S. to carry special documentation—certificates of residence—from the Internal Revenue Service. Those who were caught not carrying the certificates were sentenced to hard labor and deportation, and bail was only an option if the accused were vouched for by a “credible white witness.”

An example of the required Certificate of Residence. Although this is not Harry Lum, it is an example of the document he would have carried.

In the spring of 1892, Harry suffered a painful accident. While ironing clothes for the Clark Hotel, two of his fingers got caught between the rollers causing a severe injury. The Evening Kansan noted “it will be some time before he is able to resume work.”

“All old scores are blotted out and friendships renewed”

A reporter from the Newton Daily Republican took some time in February 1894 to interview Lum about the Chinese New Year. During the holiday, “all old scores are blotted out and friendships renewed.”  According to Lum, “the Chinaman who does not forgive a fellow countryman during these two weeks is a black sheep and all other Chinamen turn their backs up on him.”  Lum noted that “like white men, many Chinamen get hilariously full on New Years and paint the town a bright crimson hue.”

Lum, however, celebrated the holiday like Christmas and had “dispensed with the insignia of all devout heathen . . . and follows the custom of his brother Kansans and is strictly temperate.”  The editor closed with this description of Lum; “he has an idea that it is a capital offense to drown one’s senses in Kansas bug juice and he will neither drink whisky nor hit the opium pipe.” (Newton Daily Republican, 6 February 1894)

“A Little Gambling”

 Lum apparently enjoyed  gambling.  The Wichita Star, August 1888, noted that Lum, “the christainized celestial from Newton was taking in the races to-day and betting his money allee samee like white man.” [sic]

Gambling also brought trouble to Harry. This was the case in August 1900, when Lum reported a robbery.

“Frank Weston, a gentleman of color, had procured a sum of money from him in a manner not prescribed by law. It seems there was a little gambling device operated in a shed back of the laundry.” At the end of the evening. Lum was counting his winnings when “Weston grabbed a handful of silver, alleged to be $20 and forthwith made his escape.” Weston was arrested. (Newton Kansan, 3 August 1900)

Of Some Notoriety”

Harry’s wife, Mrs. Alice Lum, was more notorious in the Newton community.  In 1892, she was found guilty of keeping a bawdy house and fined $50. Fights at the Lums  were not uncommon. Abe Weston, also a Black man, was frequently involved.  On March 26, 1892, the Evening Kansan Republican reported that Mrs. Harry Lum had issued a complaint against Abe Weston, who was arrested for assault. In return, Weston reported that Mrs. Lum kept a bawdy house and as a result she was arrested.

In 1907, Lum’s was the site of a shooting. John Allen shot Frank Jordan, both Black men, in  the home of Lum. This gained statewide attention.

The Lum’s home was again the site of a drunken brawl in 1909 during which “Joe Rickman stuck his stiletto into Arthur Childs.”  The reporter observed that “it had to be said to the credit of Harry that he does not seem to have participated to any great extent, if at all.” (Evening Kansan Republican, March 11, 1909)

What happened to Harry Lum?

In 1902, Lum sold his Newton business to another Chinese man, Shung Lee, and worked at Peabody during the week and spent Sundays in Newton. This business arrangement apparently did not last long.  Shung Lee was not mentioned again and Lum returned to Newton to oversee the business.

Harry Lum’s exit from Newton seems to have passed without notice or comment. On December 28, 1910, Harry Lum and wife sold Lot 20, block 13, in Newton to Mary O. Grant for $1300. Shortly after that an announcement in the paper noted that Mrs. Harry Lum was moving to California, where she likely lived for the rest of her life.

Evening Kansan Republican, 23 May 1911.

A Mrs. Alice Lum died March 17, 1915, and was  buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, Alameda Co, CA.  She was 62. It is possible that this was Harry Lum’s wife.

Evergreen Cemetery
Oakland, Alameda County, California.
PLOT Garden of Serenity

Harry Lum, born in China in 1852 to Ward Lang Lum and Lara Lum, Newton’s “good laundry man, ” disappeared  from the record after 1910-1911. A notification of Harry Lum’s death, or a place of burial has not been found.


One Who Made A Difference

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In the spring of 1985, 58 year old June Rossiter Thaw achieved one of her lifelong dreams as she walked across the stage at Bethel College to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work. The same spring, her son, Terry graduated from Newton High School.  The Thaw family had much to celebrate!

June Thaw spent her life in service to others.  Born in Newton on June 6, 1927 to Kean and Hazel Rickman Rossiter, June enjoyed helping people and throughout her life she did just that.

She graduated from Newton High School and at age 20 she married Booker T. Thaw on March 12, 1948. For awhile, her life was filled with raising a family, but she still found time to attend college classes, workshops and seminars. However, graduating with a college degree remained just out of reach.

Daughters Valerie & Heidi, and son, Terry.

June had a life philosophy that one never gets to old to learn something new and set new goals.  This was never clearer than after her husband, Brooker T., died in October 1980.  She decided that “school would be the perfect thing to help her put her life back together.”

After getting her degree, June worked as a social worker at Presbyterian Manor in Newton. She also was involved in many community organizations.  She worked with Catherine Westerhaus to found the Mid-Kansas Community Action Program. As part of her work at Mid-CAP, she was active in establishing a number of programs that are still needed today including Head Start, Meals on Wheels, as well as senior transportation and food stamp support.

Other projects important to June included hospice, domestic violence and voter registration.

June was named as one of “10 Who Made A Difference” in the March 28, 2005, Newton Kansan. Even at the age of 77, she did not let her age or physical difficulties get in the way of her work noting; “I still have stuff I want to do . . .I am not ready to die.”  In 2005, Rosa Barrera, then director of RSVP noted that June did not let her wheelchair stop her. Barrera noted; “Quite a bit of volunteer work gets done from her apartment. She phones all other seniors in the community to check on them.” At that point June had volunteered with RSVP for 5 years.

When asked to sum up her life in one word, June told the reporter; “Satisfaction. My peace with God is the main thing that keeps me going.”

June Thaw completed her life of service on December 16, 2007 at the age of 80. Throughout her life, she was definitely one who made a difference.


  • “Rickman Book” on loan from Karen Werner Wall.
    • Marriage License Booker T Thaw to June Sylvia Rossiter, March 12, 1948.
    • “Mother & Son are 1985 Graduates” Kansas State Globe: May 22-29, 1985.
    • Frey, Chad, “Women’s work helped many” Newton Kansan, 28 March 2005.
    • All photos courtesy Karen Werner Wall, “Rickman Book.”
  • “June Sylvia Rossiter Thaw Obituary,” Newton Kansan, 19 December 2007.

“Ruthabel Rollins Conducts”

by Kristine Schmucker, HHM Curator

Newton alumni have scattered far and wide over the decades and contributed to their chosen field far beyond Kansas. Some might be quite well known, others have quietly left their legacy. Ruthabel Rickman Rollins was a Newtonian who “made it” in New York as an opera singer in the mid-1940s. Despite that success, her career teaching vocal music and conducting was perhaps a more significant contribution.

Born September 16, 1920, to Lloyd and Hazel Allen Rickman, Ruthabel, and her two brothers, Lloyd and Kenneth, grew up in Newton and attended Newton schools.  The family lived at 304 W. 12th, Newton. She graduated from Newton High in 1938. Her father, Lloyd, was a musician and the driving force behind “Rickman’s Band,” which the Evening Kansan Republican in 1909 called “the best colored band in the state.”

Perhaps following her father’s inspiration, Ruthabel focused on music for her career. While a student at Bethel College, Ruthabel studied voice, piano and organ and was a member of the A Cappella choir.  She graduated in 1941.


Following graduation, Ruthabel taught public school for three years before moving to New York City. In New York, she joined the cultural community as she continued to hone her craft and teach in her own studio. Ruthabel was involved in various performances including several opera productions.

In 1945, a New York City newspaper headline noted that “Concert Is Given by Altrusa Opera” featuring Ruthabel Rickman. The Altrusa Opera Company worked to encourage “Negro” musicians and composers.  Rickman is listed as a soprano for the event, probably singing Verdi in New York City’s Town Hall.  She also performed at the newly founded Amato Opera Theater in Greenwich Village. Ruthabel Rickman was talented enough to survive the New York cultural scene.

Ruthabel married Frank Rollins in Chicago.  The couple moved to Houston where she served on the faculty of Texas Southern University (TSU) teaching voice and choral conducting until her death in 1982.  During these years of dedicated teaching with co-professor, Ruth Stewart, Ruthabel influenced the next generation of singers and conductors.

In 1979, Ruthabel received Bethel’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

She died December 8, 1982 and was buried at the Houston Memorial Gardens, Pearland, TX.

After her death, the building she taught in on the TSU campus was named the “Rollins-Stewart Music Building” in her and Stewart’s honor. In addition, the choir she conducted produced a record in her memory “Ruthabel Rollins Conducts the Texas Southern University Concert Choir with three unaccompanied Spirituals sung by Ruth Stewart,” to honor the beloved and respected teacher.  A later memorial service held at Bethel College included a performance from her TSU choir and Hazella Rollins Epps, her daughter.

A home-grown talent, Ruthable Rickman Rollins made her mark on the world’s stage through a very remarkable career of performance and teaching.


For more about Ruthabel Rickman Rollins career in New York, see “Newton’s Ruthabel Rickman Shares the Page with Bogart & Bacall” a May 2013 blog post by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist. http://harveycountyvoices.blogspot.com/2013/05/newtons-ruthabel-rickman-shares-page.html