“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.


Harvey County’s Oldest Resident: Katie Vance

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In 1922, Harvey County celebrated 50 years as a county. Efforts were made to recognize the “Old Settlers.” Lists with information on where the family  came from, the date they arrived in Harvey County, and what township they settled in. Local photographer, W.R. Murphy took studio photographs  of Old Settlers still alive which was included in the 1922 50th Anniversary Ed of the Newton Kansan. Descendants of deceased settlers could submit photos to be included in the issue.

One group of early settlers was not acknowledged included people of color.  Many Black families saw the opportunity to own their own land through the Homestead Act of 1862 and worked hard to achieve this dream in Harvey County.  Mary Rickman Anderson Grant with her husband and children were among Harvey County’s first Black residents, arriving in 1871. Others followed and made their lives in Harvey County, Kansas. The Vance/Brooks family also made Newton, Ks their home.

An “Aged Colored Woman”

In November 1902,   Katie Vance, an “aged colored woman,” died after living through one century and parts of two other. Her brief obituary reported that “she could recall incidents of the time of Washington and Jefferson.” Her age was estimated between 110 to 125 years old at the time of her death in 1902.

She was declared “the oldest person in the county . . . colored, who lives on West Fifth Street.” in 1899. At that time, the next oldest was 92 year old  Abraham Thiessen of Alta Township.

Newton Kansan, 23 June 1899

In 1901, the Evening Kansan Republican interviewed “the remarkable woman” and noted that “her faculties with the exception of that of sight, are but little impaired.” She was described as someone that  “has been known and respected by the colored people of the city and within the memory of nearly all of them she has been an old woman.”

“A Stately Mansion and Broad Fields”

She began life as a slave on a plantation in approximately 1779. Her earliest memories were of “a stately mansion and broad fields in Virginia.” She did not know her parents. For newspaper article she noted:

“Of her parents she knew nothing.  Her master and mistress, even if they knew, never deigned to enlighten her as to the whereabouts of her parents. . . she grew up. . . without a mother to love and watch over her.”

Throughout her growing up years, she “was employed in odd jobs about the house” along with a brother and sister.  She never knew what it was to not work. She recalled; “if caught with a book in her possession, she was soundly slapped and the book taken from her.”

“Toiled from Sunrise to Sunset”

Change came to Katie’s life when the daughter of the plantation owner married a man by the name of McQuery. Katie was given to the newlyweds and moved with the couple first to Charlottesville, N.C. and later Kentucky. At first her duties were as a nurse for the couple’s children. Once the children grew up, Katie went to work in the tobacco factory and corn fields “where she toiled from sunrise to sunset, day in and day out.”

After the “cruel separation in Virginia,” she never saw her brother or sister again.

At the end of the Civil War, Katie continued working hard. One possible glimpse into her life at this time comes from a complaint filed by Katie Vance on November 2, 1868 with the Mississippi, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office records, 1865-1872 against Jesy Bransfield for cotton owed to her. The cotton was  “released and turned over to the plaintive.”

Mississippi, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Report, 1865-1872.

Married twice, her second husband, Wilson Vance, was  also a slave on the McQuery plantation. She had four children that lived to adulthood, but by the time of the  1901 interview all had died. At that time, she knew of only one other living relative, a great grandson who was a railroad worker “out west.”

Several other “well known colored citizens of this city, were property of one Col. Elijah Sebree,” at a neighboring plantation, including  Abe Weston and Willis Brooks, future son-in-law, both of whom would make the trip to Kansas with the Vance family.

“Equal Opportunities”

In January 1880, Vance with 31 others, including Weston and Brooks, “emigrated to sunny Kansas, where the negro was given equal opportunities with the white man in the race of life.” Katie Vance was already an elderly woman “about ready to shuffle off this mortal coil”  at the time of the trip. When they arrived in Newton, the family consisted of Willis & Emily Brooks and a son, George Washington, and the elderly Wilson & Katie Vance. The Vance/Brooks family lived at 422 W 6th, Newton, Ks in a house described as a “shanty” for the next 20 years.

Wilson Vance died at the age of 105 in 1894. In 1897, the Vance’s remaining daughter, Emily, (Mrs.Willis Brooks) died. Willis Brooks remarried in 1898.   Following the death of her husband and daughter, Katie continued to live in the house with her 81 year old son-in-law, Willis Brooks and his second wife, Margaret Harding Brooks.

By the time of the Evening Kansan Republican interview in January 1901, Katie was completely blind “although her memory seems as active as ever.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 29 June 1901

Kate Vance died in November 1902. Her funeral was held at the 2nd Baptist Church, Newton, Ks where she was a member. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 November 1902.

The final clues to Katie Vance’s remaining family appear in the legal section of the Evening Kansan Republican 11 December 1903 announcing a Sheriff’s Sale of their property.  Willis Brooks died in July 1903. Although no obituary for Brooks was discovered, the Sheriff’s Sale lists George Washington and wife Clara Washington, possibly Katie Vance’s grandson, as well as Margaret Brooks, Willis’ second wife.

Evening Kansan Republican, 11 December 1903.


  • Katie Vance  complaint November 2, 1868 with the Mississippi, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office records, 1865-1872.
  • Newton Kansan, 23 June 1899, 1 August 1902.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 29 January 1901, 28 November 1902,  11 December 1903.
  • Newton City Directories: 1885, 1887, 1902. Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, Newton, Ks
  • U.S. Census:
    • 1870: Trenton, Todd, Kentucky
    • 1880: Newton, Harvey County, Kansas
    • 1900: Newton, Ward 4, Harvey County, Ks
  • Marriage License Collection, Harvey Historical Museum & Archives, Newton, Ks, Groom Index.
    • Willis Brooks married Margaret Harding 3 November 1898