Seven girls, imbued with zeal, exuberance, and social concern united to form a modest club with ambitious goals. In the heart of San Francisco Chinatown, the Square and Circle Club began in 1924 dedicated to promote and foster philanthropic projects and community service. “In deeds be square, in knowledge be all-round” was the ringing motto. This nucleus of girls, which quickly enlarged to sixteen, was truly a remarkable group, rich in the culture and knowledge of their ancestors and enlightened by their American heritage, they embraced the best of each.
The young ladies were resoundingly successful in their early endeavors to fulfill the club’s ideals. The first benefit was a Hope Chest Dance in September 1924 to raise funds to aid flood and famine victims in China. “Jazz music” to be featured, “American party dresses” will be worn, noted the S.F. Examiner. A net of $250 was realized and we were off! Like a flower bursting into bloom, the Club blossomed with a myriad of activities: two benefits a year, usually a Hope Chest raffle and at times with a dance, a sewing circle (for the Hope Chest), variety shows, visitations to many city institutions where we brought gifts and cheer to the Chinese patients and residents at Laguna Honda Hospital, Chung Mei Home for Chinese boys, and Ming Quong Home for Chinese girls, to name a few. In 1941 a Junior Square and Circle Club was added to instill into eager teenage girls the ideals and traditions of the Club. Today, decades later, the Square and Circle Club continues to work not only for its root community in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but far beyond. The original Hope Chest Project has grown into multiple projects benefiting our diverse community. Fund-raisers run the gamut from carnivals, dances, fashion shows, raffles, rummage sales, teas, and cookbook publications. Among the recipients of Square and Circle Club’s fund-raisers are Asian Women’s Shelter, Chinese Hospital, Chinatown YMCA, YWCA, Chinese Education Center (S.F. Unified School District), earthquake victims in Sichuan, Japan and Nepal, On Lok, Self Help for the Elderly, Reading Rooms at the Chinatown and Main Branches of the S.F. Public Library, Roots Program, Washington Close-Up Program, annual scholarships to City College of S.F., Mills College, and S.F. State University, and the Square and Circle Club/S.F. State University student intern program.
Believing that community service involves more than providing funds, members have actively participated in numerous community programs such as: health drives organized by the San Francisco Health Center, the collection and distribution of care packages to needy families, holding Easter egg hunts for immigrant children, delivering practical gifts – gloves, scarves, sweaters, and other warm clothing – to residents at Laguna Honda Hospital, collaborating with students from City College of S.F. and S.F State University Asian-American Studies Department to knit scarves for Gum Moon residents, and organizing and implementing a weekly orientation program for immigrant children and their families. Many of the community needs that were first identified and addressed by Square and Circle have become incorporated into the structure of many community organizations that followed.
Square and Circle Club founders were exceptional women who were pioneers in social consciousness. Unaware of their impact, they have become role models for today’s women. Many of the members have been individually recognized and awarded for their leadership and accomplishments. The Club’s first president, Alice Fong Yu, was the first Chinese/Asian American teacher hired into the San Francisco Unified School District and in 1996 had a Chinese Immersion school named for her, the Alice Fong Yu Alternative School. Another member Alice G. Lowe was the first Chinese/Asian American Commissioner and Chair of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum internationally known for its extensive Asian art collection.
The members of the Square and Circle Club are proud of our association with the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch, where our club’s history is archived and will be available for internet access worldwide. Thus, Square and Circle, the nation’s oldest Chinese/Asian women’s service organization, is viewed as an important part of San Francisco history, Asian American history, and exemplifies the changing roles of Chinese women. The club’s storied past is essentially a chronicle of Chinese women’s growing independence and their emergence as capable and caring individuals in their own right. It is a story of achievement and inspiration.