Donaldina Cameron left, Miranda Raison as Cameron right

What HBO‘s Warrior Got Wrong About Donaldina Cameron

Michelle Moravec

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Why does this one historical figure continue to fascinate people almost 100 years after she retired?

In season two of HBO Max’s series Warrior, viewers meet Nellie Davenport, a character based on the historical figure, Donaldina Cameron. I’ve been writing in one way or another about Cameron since 2012 and I can tell you, Warrior represents just the last entry into a long-standing popular culture obsession with Cameron. Like so many fictionalized accounts based on Cameron, the show takes considerable liberties with the historical record.

#1 “Davenport is based on a remarkable San Franciscan heroine, Donaldina Cameron. … the nun who devoted herself to the rescuing of young Chinese girls who were forced into sex working.”

Cameron became the superintendent of the Presbyterian Mission Home.

#2 She’s a wealthy widow committed to ending the exploitation of Chinese women

Cameron, born in New Zealand in 1869 began volunteering at the Mission home in 1895 at the age of twenty-five. She began volunteering as a way to get over a broken engagement and she never married.

#3 [Cameron] had vineyards just outside Sonoma in California

While some women in the mission home did agricultural work during the first world war (see Garden of the World by Cecilia M. Tsu) most women in the mission home received domestic training.

#4 [Cameron is]also a gay woman.

The only evidence for romantic relationships that exist in the historical records all involve men. She broke off her first engagement and became engaged later in life to a widower who died before the wedding (see Relations of Rescue by Peggy Pascoe).

#5 living … in 1880’s San Francisco.

Cameron arrives at the Mission home in 1895 and the bulk of her career occurred in the first three decades of the twentieth-century. She retired in 1934.

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Michelle Moravec

Historian doing corpus linguistics, Feminist writing about politics of women's culture, historying digitally #writinginpublic http://michellemoravec.com