As we’ve said in previous posts, Margaret Lam was a bit of a character. She looms large in the RASRL Collection possibly because she made her presence felt. She was vocal, and in spite of her size cast a long shadow over the RASRL research in the 1930s. Reading correspondence by and about her, she seems to be mercurial with an exaggerated sense of her own importance. Having found her cases, it seems credible that she did work as hard as she suggests in her numerous letters, “ruining her health” for the sake of the research. In one letter, she described her trip to the continent, visiting California and Washington before continuing on to do graduate work at the University of Chicago. In a letter to Andrew Lind dated August 5, 1935 she described visiting her family in Seattle, Lind’s hometown:
I met a few leading citizens there and had an interesting time chatting with them. One of them was the manager of the Bureau of Domestic and Foreign Commerce of the Dept. of Commerce Washington D.C., and his wife. Both entertained me to a great extent and to my great embarrassment also, as I am not accustomed to such liberal or generous hospitality. They happen to be great friends of my Uncle. Another was … the managing editor of the Associate Press in Seattle who, only two weeks ago, resigned and joined the Seattle Times. That devil wrote me up in the Seattle Times. – it was most excruciating experience I’ve had. You know how I love publicity. Another ex-newspaper editor had insisted [on] writing me up in the P. Intelligencer, but another newspaperman, seeing my sorrowful plight, took the article and destroyed it. Thank god!
How much of this is believable? Why would Margaret have been the subject of newspaper coverage or so sought after for an interview? Given her proclivity for exaggeration, was any of this true?
Apparently so. We don’t know the circumstances that led to the article, but we recently received this from a fellow researcher who came across the article. The article describes her as “a slender Chinese girl” and an “eminent researcher at the University of Hawaii.” The article describes one of Margaret’s published articles, “Baseball and Racial Harmony in Hawaii.” The article is exactly what it sounds like and Margaret asserts that baseball promotes racial harmony of the type that Hawai‘i was famed for.
Baseball plays a significant role in the process of cultural assimilation and race accommodation in Hawaii. It is a medium through which a racial group secures its social status and its admittance into the Hawaiian society of mixed races. In this wise does baseball share in the development of the exotic and mosaic of Hawaiian culture, a culture peculiar to a community which is composed of people who come from racially distinct backgrounds, and who live a more or less common life in considerable harmony (“Baseball and Racial Harmony in Hawaii” Sociology and Social Research, September 1933, pp. 58-66).
The article is unremarkable and draws on none of her research experience or expertise. It seems slightly out of place, even a little trivial for an academic journal. It offers no critical insight and, in fact, does little more than confirm the prevailing stereotypes about race relations in Hawai‘i. But it is easy to see why a reporter might be anxious to interview someone so unusual about a place that was, even in 1935, still so unknown.
Margaret continued on to Chicago from Seattle where she enrolled in graduate courses in the Sociology Department, the home of some of the most well known sociologists of the era, Robert Park being only the most famous. It is not clear how or why Margaret enrolled at the University of Chicago. She claimed not to be pursuing a PhD, but it is entirely possible that she was encouraged or even invited to attend by Robert Park who had close professional contacts with Romanzo Adams. (Park taught at the University of Hawai‘i during a summer session and attended a number of conferences there. He mentored both Andrew Lind and Bernhard Hormann.) She spent less than a year in Chicago, enduring one of the worst winters in the city’s history. She claimed to love the climate, sleeping with her windows open in February. She returned to Hawai‘i in the late spring of 1936 after running into a series of difficulties related to her health and finances.
Update: Although we have known the years Margaret graduated from UH and speculated that she had gone to McKinley High School, we now have more evidence that fixes her in space and time. Here is Margaret in the 1926 Normal School yearbook, The Cadet.
Please visit our companion website Local Citing where we feature several community studies form the RASRL Collection in the Mapping the Territory exhibit.