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Asian Pacific Heritage Month: Ellen Soo Moon and Her Photographs

A Chinese American Legacy

Ellen So Moon Portrait

In 1970 a father and his son, Richard and Roderick Moon, donated to the museum a small collection of family photographs attributed to the mother Ellen Soo Moon, a Chinese American who died two years earlier in 1968. The photographs show a snapshot into the life of Ellen and her siblings, Annie and Mabel, following the powerful 1906 San Francisco earthquake when they were orphaned.  While there are no notations about the devastating earthquake on the photographs, the photos depict how Ellen, Annie, and Mabel’s lives changed drastically after they were taken in by Presbyterian missionaries. 

The photographs were stored at the museum for nearly 50 years before a great grand-niece came forth and enlightened the archivists with background information on the family.  From this information, we know that Ellen was born in San Francisco in 1898, orphaned in 1906, and married a Chinese national, Richard Fong You Moon, from Canton, China.  Richard was six years younger than Ellen and made his living as a chauffeur.  His employers included actor and screenwriter Howard Estabrook.  Records show the family lived in Hollywood in the 1940s through the 1950s and both Ellen and Richard were registered to vote.  Richard died in 1993 at the age of 88.

While this brief profile of the Moon family tells us small pieces of information about their lives, it is evident that the family valued institutions, like the Natural History Museum, which collects and preserves materials documenting the history of Angelenos.  Their spirit of giving continued with Roderick Moon, as he left an estate of nearly a quarter of a million dollars in 2019 to the Stevenson Ranch Library located in the Santa Clarita Valley community where he lived for over 50 years. 

Ellen, Mabel and Annie Soo

Seaver Center for Western History Research 

Annie, Mabel and Ellen Soo, 1904
Inscription on backof photo reads: Annie, Mabel, and Nell taken Aug. 20, 1904, the day after they came

Seaver Center for Western History Research

"Annie Mabel & Nell taken Aug. 20, 1904, the day after they came"
Ellen Soo as a young girl

Seaver Center for Western History Research 

Ellen Soo 

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Annie, Mabel and Ellen Soo, 1904

Seaver Center for Western History Research 

"Annie Mabel & Nell taken Aug. 20, 1904, the day after they came"

Seaver Center for Western History Research

Ellen Soo 

Seaver Center for Western History Research