Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Yew Char, Photographer

Yew Char was born on January 19, 1893, in Kohala, Hawaii, according to his World War I and II draft cards. His parents were Kuo Char and Ng Shee. 

Char and his family have not yet been found in the 1900 United States census. The 1910 census counted Char (line 9), his parents, four brothers and two sisters in Honolulu at Kuua Wai. His father was a planter of taro. 

Char was an athlete who entered bicycle races and played baseball. 

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 12, 1913, said Char joined the National Guard. 

The Star-Bulletin, August 11, 1914, reported Char’s location and why he left home. 
Boy’s Wish Comes True; See City ‘Where They Make Laws’
Yew Char, a young Chinese who calls Honolulu his home, has fulfilled
his greatest, desire. He has visited Washington. D. C., and thoroughly inspected the great city where “they make the laws.”

It was about a year and a half ago that Yew Char left Honolulu. His friends say that he left to prevent having to get married according to the ancient Chinese custom. They claim that Yew Char’s parents had a little Chinese girl picked out for him, but that be resented their interference, declared he was strictly American, and that he would choose his wife when the time came. Then he left the territory.

As soon as Yew Char landed in San Francisco he started to travel. Cards and letters received by his friends here say that he went to Berkeley and organized a Chinese baseball team.

When the novelty of this undertaking wore off, he began jumping from one city to another, taking in all the sights and picking up odd jobs here and there to earn his way.

“My one desire is to get to Washington, D. C., where I can see everything in that great city where they make the laws,” he said, in one letter.

That was more than a year ago. A postal card Monday brought the news that Yew Char had arrived in the city of his desire, and that he was making the best of it.

But that is not all. Yew Char said that there was more in store for him in the matter of seeing cities. He said he was going to Chicago and then to New York City. He is going to visit Philadelphia and Trenton, N. J., and then return to Chicago via Niagara Falls.

“I am educating myself by traveling.,” he wrote.

Yew Char has many friends in Honolulu. But when he writes to them he makes no mention of the little Chinese girl that his parents had chosen to be his wife.
The Chicago Daily Tribune  (Illinois), May 29, 1915, said 
Outfielder Yew Char, formerly a member of the Chinese university nine of Honolulu, has joined the Cooke Colts. Tomorrow the Colts will meet the Arion Athletics, and on Monday they will play the Logan Squares.
Char’s training in photography was noted in the Star-Bulletin, August 14, 1915. 
Yew Char, well-known young Chinese businessman and photographer of Honolulu, has just completed a course in the Modern School of Photography of Chicago, and is expected to return here soon to join his brother in the City Photo Company. He is said to have made a fine record in his photographic studies.
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (Hawaii), June 9, 1916, reported Char’s progress. 
Chinese of Honolulu Completes Course in Art of Photography
Studied Profession Two Years in Chicago College—May Enter Business Here

Yew Char, a well known Chinese boy of Honolulu has just finished a two year course of study in a Chicago photographic institution and is returning to the city as an expert camera man and technical man in the great modern art. He is the first Chinese to obtain a complete education in this business.

Yew Char really completed the course in one year, but not satisfied with that and determined to learn practically all they could teach, took a post graduate course which took the greater part of his second year. He has been engaged actively in the photographic business recently in the states.

He has a brother in the same profession in this city. It is not known yet whether he will enter the business with the brother here or will return to the states.
The Star-Bulletin, June 17, 1916, noted Char’s return home. 
Yew Char returned to Honolulu yesterday after two years and a half spent on the mainland studying photography. He was recently graduated from the Modern School of Photography in Chicago.
A City Photo Company advertisement mentioned Char. 

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 19, 1916

On July 31, 1917, Char signed his World War I draft card. He was a self-employed photographer at the City Photo Company, 15 Hotel Street. His description was medium height and build, with brown eyes and dark hair.

In the 1920 census Char’s older brother, a photographer with three children, was head of the household that numbered ten. Char’s younger brother was a photographer, too. They lived in Honolulu at 546 Holokahana Lane off Liliha Street (lines 35 to 44).

In Washington, DC, Char married Helen Sau Ngam Mau on July 16, 1923. How they met was explained in The Mau Lineage (1989). 
... In her youth, Helen Sau Ngam Mau was raised by the Fong Inn family, who owned and operated the elegant Fong Inn Store in Honolulu. Helen assisted with sales at the store where her future husband, Yew Char, was fascinated by her beauty. He arranged for Fong Inn to send her to attend the Virginia Intermount College, Bristol, Virginia, a girls’ finishing school located in the southwestern part of the state. After two years, “she left school when Yew Char took her to Washington, D. C. in 1923. He married her in the National Capital, bought a new car, and drove across the continent with one of her teachers riding with them!” This was told to his son, Washington Char, by Yew Char in 1982.
Char’s marriage to Helen S. N. Mow was reported in the Washington Times (District of Columbia). 

China Wedding Bells to Ring in Capital
Romance of Helen Mow and Yew Char, Both of Honolulu, Will Culminate Here. 

Miss Helen S. N. Mow, nineteen years old Chinese maiden, pretty as the proverbial lotus flower, accompanied by her husband-to-be, Yew Char applied today for a marriage license at the Courthouse.

Both are natives of Honolulu of Chinese extraction, but proclaim with pride that they are Americans. The girl has been in this country two years atending [sic] the Virginia Intermont College at Bristol, Va., wher [sic] Yew Char said he had sent her to become thoroughly Americanied. [sic]

Miss Mow was attired in a sky blue, silk dress of Chinese cut, with pink flower embroidery, while he [sic] fiance wore conventional American clothes. He has leters [sic] of introduction from the Governor of Hawaii as wel [sic] as the mayor of Honolulu.

Char is attending the photographers convention here, and after the marriage ceremony the young couple will make a tour of this country in their automobile.

The Rev. George F. Dudley of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church will perform the ceremony. Miss Mow is at the Grace Dodge Hotel.
New Rules Bars After Long Journey
Chinese Photographer Came From Honolulu to Claim Childhood Sweetheart.

Yew Char came from the other side of the world to marry pretty Helen Mow, and he’ll tell the universe that the trip was worth it.

Yew Char, Chinese photographer of Honolulu, is attending the convention of the International Association of American Photographers.

All the way to Washington, across the Pacific and again across the American continent, he was thinking of the little “lotus flower girl,” Helen Mow, his sweetheart since their childhood in Honolulu, whom he had sent to the Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Va., to complete her education, two years ago.

They met in Washington, and planned a quiet wedding, but Yew Char’s fellow-delegates learned their plans and took matters into their own hands.

The ceremony was performed by the Rev. George F. Dudley at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, of which Dr. Dudley is rector. An Oriental dinner in a downtown restaurant, with chop suey and li-chee nuts, followed the wedding.

If the marriage had been celebrated in China, according to the customs of the country, there would have been days of pledges and responses and a great feast, with no less than 750 guests.
The Evening Star (District of Columbia), July 17, 1923 said 
Real Oriental Courtship Ends in Occidental Marriage Here
“East is east and west is west,” thought Yew Char, prominent Chinese photographer from Honolulu and pretty nineteen-year-old Helen S. N. Mow, when they added to the happiness of, their celestial courtship begun in Hawaii, a truly occidental marriage, performed by Rev. George K. Dudley, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church yesterday.

For many years Yew Char watched his almond-eyed sweetheart grow to womanhood and an ardent courtship began some three years ago. He then sent his “little lotus flower girl,” as he calls her, to a finishing school in the United States.

“Yes, I will—I do,” declared Yew Char in all eagerness when, during the marriage ceremony, he was asked if he would take his “little lotus flower girl” for his wife. Much simpler was the ceremony yesterday than what would have happened if they had been married in true Chinese fashion at home, where many feasts, poetry and other quaint oriental customs would have taken up the time of the impatient lovers, and which the now Mrs. Char declared “so unnecessary.”

Yew Char is attending the photographers’ convention here, and his sweetheart came from the school in Virginia which she was attending. The couple planned to be married quietly, but a group of friends learned of their plans and attended the ceremony. Griffith Yore of St. Louis was best man, and Miss Doris Gartside of Washington was bridesmaid.

Mr. and Mrs. Char were hosts at an informal banquet of Chinese delicacies after the ceremony. When the photographers’ convention closes, the couple will motor to the Atlantic coast and then to the Pacific coast, where they will leave for Honolulu.
A photograph of them was published in the 1988 book, Sailing for the Sun: The Chinese in Hawaii, 1789–1989

Camera Craft, September 1923, said
Mr. Yew Char, who passed through here on his way to the convention, was on hand with his bride. He had a place on the program of California Night, and showed slides of Honolulu. He gave a very humorous talk and extended an invitation to the P. A. of A. to come to Honolulu, but suggested if they could not come to Honolulu he would like to see them come to San Francisco.
The Daily Bruin (Los Angeles, California), December 10, 1926, noted Char’s election. 
Chinaman Wins Political Chair
Former Bootblack Becomes Member of Territorial Legislature
Honolulu, T.H., Dec 8.—(U. N.)—Yew Char, who began life as a bootblack on the streets, will take his place next month as the first American citizen of Chinese ancestry to become a member of the territorial legislature.
Honolulu city directories, from 1917 to 1923, listed Char at 546 Holokahana Lane. His address in 1924 was 1370b South Beretania. The 1928 directory listed Char at 1149 South Beretania. 

Char’s photographs appeared in the April 1928 program book of the Chinese Students’ Alliance of Hawaii production of “The Yellow Jacket”. 

In the 1930 census Char (line 14), his wife and four children resided in Honolulu at 129 Keonaona Street. 

Char and his eleven-year-old son, Washington, were aboard the steam ship President Coolidge when it departed Hong Kong on August 10, 1935. They arrived at Honolulu on August 23, 1935. Their home address was 2154 Eheu Street in Honolulu.

Char and his wife visited San Francisco in 1939. 

According to the 1940 census, the Char family (lines 25 to 30) had the same address. Char’s highest level of education was the fourth year of high school.

On April 26, 1942, Char signed his World War II draft card. The photographer was described as five feet seven inches, 120 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. 

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 21, 1946, reported Char’s quitting photographing and going into the travel tourism business. 

Honolulu Advertiser, February 2, 1947

The 1949 directory said Char resided at 2154 Eheu.

In 1950, the Char household included his son- and daughter-in-laws and two grandchildren. He (line 5) was a tour director who lived at the same location. 

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 10, 1960

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 27, 1960

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 8, 1960

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June 3, 1960

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 13, 1960

In directories from 1963 to 1983, Char’s address was 3816 Diamond Head Road.

Char passed away on March 29, 1982, in Honolulu. An obituary appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser, March 31, 1982. 
Yew Char, photographer, legislator
Yew Char, well-known in Honolulu since the 1920s as a professional photographer, travel agent, territorial legislator, inventor, Realtor and more, died Monday. He was 89. 

Friends may call 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at Nuuanu Memorial Park Mortuary. Services will begin at 1 p.m. Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. 

Over his long lifetime. Char made a name for himself in several fields. Born on the Big Island in 1893. the son of Chinese immigrants, he first labored with them on the sugar plantations In Kohala. In 1900, he moved with his family to Honolulu, where he became a newsboy and bootblack on the streets of Honolulu and worked in the pineapple cannery. 

Educated in the public schools and at YMCA night classes here, Char saved enough of his childhood earnings to study photography in Chicago, where he received a diploma from the Modern School of Photography in 1915. Returning to Honolulu the following year, he first became a partner in the City Photo Char Co. with his brother. On Char. 

In 1923, he married his childhood sweetheart, Helen San Ngan Mow. The next year, the Chars opened their own photo studio. Tiffany photo, which they ran together through 1946. Mrs. Char, who died in 1978, took an active part in her husband’s business activities for more than 50 years. 

In 1926, Char ran successfully as a Democrat for the territorial legislature, taking pride in the fact that he was the first representative of full Chinese ancestry in that body. He served a total of eight terms, from 1927 to 1931 and from 1933 to 1945. 

Although a photographer for many years, Char apparently did not exhibit his photographs until recently, Last October, however, show entitled “Yew Char, Legislator and Photographer” opened in the Ray Jerome Baker Room of the Bishop Museum. The museum noted yesterday that the photographs are still on show there. 

At the time of his death Monday in Tripler Medical Center, Char lived at 3616 Diamond Head Road. He is survived by sons, Washington T. of Alabama and Lincoln S.; daughters, Mrs. Alfred (Josephine) Chan of Floral Park, N.Y., and Mrs. Henry (Virginia) Wong; brother. Ten Char of Maui; and sisters, Mrs. James A. (Helen) Yuen and Mrs. Daniel Y. (Mabel) Wong.
Char was laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Further Reading and Viewing
Chronicling America, Yew Char, 1912–1922 
Daily Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), October 24, 1947, “Honolulu Group Visits Victoria” 
Chicago Natural History Museum Bulletin, October 1953, “The Hawaiian Islands” 
Carnegie Magazine, September 1954, “Around the Hawaiian Islands”
Currently there are three City Photo Co. photographs at eBay

(Next post on Wednesday: Henry Inn, Photographer)

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