While there is evidence of Chinese immigrants coming to Boston as early as the late eighteenth century, Chinatown was formally settled in the 1880’s after C.T. Sampson hired 70 Chinese laborers to break a strike at his North Adams shoe factory. The following year, he continued to hire Chinese workers because of their high productivity level. After two or three years of this work, some Chinese renewed their contract, others returned to China, and still others moved to Boston. Some were employed to construct the Pearl Street Telephone Exchange and others came from the recently finished transcontinental railroad. These early pioneers created a tent settlement near Harrison Avenue and Oxford Place called Ping On Alley, creating one of the country’s earliest Chinatowns.
Discrimination and prejudice restricted the Chinese to living in an insular and geographically tight-knit community. There were very few Chinese women in the United States because of anti-Chinese legislation, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Discrimination also restricted job opportunities to those available within the Chinatown community such as groceries and restaurants—or to jobs few white Americans wanted in laundries.