Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee is a deceased honoree of the National Women’s History Alliance for her work on women’s suffrage. This March we are celebrating Women’s History Month and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Although Dr. Lee was unable to vote because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, she worked to see the passing of women’s suffrage in New York State.
This blog entry is to honor Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee. She does not have a file at the National Archives at Seattle. Her file 12,943, box 68 is at National Archives at New York City. She does appear on a passenger list when she arrived in Seattle on 30 September 1937.
The following entry and sketch are from National Women’s History Alliance
Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee – 1896-1966
Suffragist, member of the Women’s Political Equality League [photo]
Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was born in 1896 in Guangzhou, China. The daughter of a Baptist minister, Lee emigrated to the United States and attended Barnard College and Columbia University. Upon earning her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1921, she became the first Chinese American woman to obtain that degree in economics. Her dissertation, The Economic History of China, was published in 1921.
Lee had a long history of suffrage activism and believed achieving votes for women was an important step for both American and Chinese women. At the age of 16 she participated in the 1912 suffrage parade in New York where she helped lead this parade while on horseback. Lee was a member of the Women’s Political Equality League and in 1915 gave an important speech titled “China’s Submerged Half” which was covered by the New York Times. In this speech she said:
“The welfare of China and possibly its very existence as an independent nation depends on rendering tardy justice to its womankind. For no nation can ever make real and lasting progress in civilization unless its women are following close to its men if not actually abreast with them.”
Lee’s work on behalf of suffrage successfully led to the 1917 passage of women’s suffrage in the state of New York. However due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Lee herself was not allowed to vote that year and it is unknown whether she ever voted. After the death of her father, Lee served as head of the First Chinese Baptist Church located in Chinatown in New York City starting in 1924. She then went on to create a Chinese Christian Center, which provided kindergarten and English classes as well as a health clinic.
Dr. Mabel Lee is now being recognized for her pioneering work in advocating for both women’s rights and rights for Asian Americans. Today the Mabel Lee Memorial Post office located at 6 Doyers Street in New York City is named in her honor.
Check out Linda Yip’s Past Presence website. It includes everything you would like to know about the Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act and genealogy in general.
The March 8, 2020 entry for Women’s History Month features Aileen Won Cumyow.
Aileen, a resident of Vancouver, B.C. was applying to visit Seattle, Washington in June 1925.
Linda Yip obtained Aileen Won Cumyow’s file from the National Archives at Seattle and wrote up Aileen’s story. It is a fascinating read.
The Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Chinese immigrants entering Canada had to pay a $50 head tax. It was the first time in Canadian history that a group was obligated to pay a tax based solely on their country of origin. In 1900, the head tax was raised to $100, then increased up to $500 per person in 1903. About 81,000 Chinese immigrants paid the head tax between 1885 and 1923.
Students, merchants (except laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats, and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China were exceptions to the exclusion.
In 1923 the Canadian government passed a more restrictive Chinese Exclusion Act which banned all Chinese immigration to Canada. It was repealed in 1947. Because of a quota, few Chinese were allowed into Canada until immigration reform in 1967.1
The Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act was similar to the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act but the U.S. did not have a huge head tax on Chinese immigrants.
Read about the Chinese Head Tax Monument at Municipal Cemetery, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. It was commissioned by the Westman Chinese Association with financial support from the Government of Canada, Province of Manitoba, City of Brandon, Rotary Club of Brandon, Whitehead Foundation, and various private donors. Created by noted Manitoba sculptor Peter Sawatzky, the monument was unveiled during a ceremony on 26 June 2011.
[Thanks to Velda and Ron Schei for telling me about the Chinese Head Tax Monument in Brandon, Manitoba.]
This has been a stressful time for the National Archives at Seattle employees, the volunteers, researchers, genealogists, historians, and anyone who respects and values preserving history.
In the next week or so I will write more about what this means for the users of Chinese Exclusion Act case files and give you more ideas about where to write or call to express your views.
We just got two more volunteers to work on indexing the Exclusion files–we now have seven volunteers but it would probably take about 100 to finish indexing before the records at boxed up and shipped away.
I will start making regular blog postings soon.
On Monday, January 13, 2020, the staff at the National Archives at Seattle received notification that within the next four years, the facility will be closed, and the records will be transferred to the NARA facilities in Kansas City, Missouri or Riverside, CA.
The National Archives at Seattle has 50,000 case files from the Chinese Exclusion Act from Chinese who entered the U.S. through the ports of Seattle, Sumas, Port Townsend, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Vancouver, B.C. from 1882 to 1943. A dedicated staff of local volunteers is indexing these files. If these records are moved 1,000 miles away, this valuable work will end.
Anyone who has ever gotten research assistance from the National Archives staff appreciates their vast institutional knowledge of the records. This will be lost if the National Archives is closed and moved from the Pacific Northwest.
Hom Sit, the 24-year old son of U.S. citizen Hom Tin, arrived in Seattle on the SS Princess Marguerite on 22 August 1938. Although he was married (marriage name Soong Choo) he arrived alone and was going to live with his father in Butte, Montana. His testimony for his admittance was in his native dialect, See Yip. Fung Ming was the official government interpreter. Hom Sit was born on 7 September 1914 in Ung Sing Village, Chuck Hom Section of Hoy Ping District in China. He gave the following information about his father: Hom Tin (marriage name Gwong Ai) was 50 years old, born in San Francisco, California; living in Butte, Montana; and working in the restaurant business. Hom Tin visited them in Ung Sing when Hom Sit was eight years old and stayed for two years. That is the only time they spent together. The Hom ancestral village was Check Suey. Hom Sit’s father’s deceased father was Hom Goon Bow. He was buried at Bok Dook Hill, about a mile from their village. Hom Sit’s mother was Lee Shee, a native of Wing On village. His maternal grandfather, Lee Len Ock, had died but his grandmother, Ow Shee, was 70 years old, living in Wing On. Hom Sit had three brothers, one older and two younger. He was married to Dea Shee from Choo Heung village and they had one son, Hom Ngin, born in 1937.
Ung Sing Village faced east and had eight houses in five rows. Their house was the third house in the first row counting from the north. It was a brick house with five rooms, tile floors, a court paved with stone, had two outside doors with the large door was facing south. Each bedroom had an L-shaped loft along the outside walls and had two outside windows opening above a balcony. They were fitted with iron bars and glass panes with wooden shutters on the inside. The bedrooms and kitchen had skylights fitted with glass. There was a shrine in the parlor; a partitioned room in the parlor was made of wood.
Hom Sit described who lived in the other houses, their extended families, and where they worked. There was a bamboo hedge surrounding the village with a gateway on each end. A river about 200 feet wide was in front of the village and a dirt highway was nearby. The village did not have an ancestral hall or social hall. There weren’t any fruit trees near the village but there was a banyan tree. Hom Sit attended Gung Yee School in the village for twelve years. Won Wing Hop was the principal of the school and there were three other teachers.
Hom Sit said that his father sent $800 for his wedding expenses which included putting in the wooden partition in the parlor and erecting a pavilion for the wedding.
Jack Chan was the interpreter for interrogation of Hom Tin, the alleged father of Hom Sit. Hom testified that he was a partner at the Idaho Café in Butte, Montana at 799-1/2 Utah Avenue. He was born in San Francisco and had made three trips to China–in 1907, 1913, and 1921. He went through the Port of San Francisco each time. He presented his Certificate of Identity for inspection. He had a brother, Hom Foot, living somewhere in the U.S. They were separated during the San Francisco earthquake and fire and never heard from each other again.
Hom Tin said he did not bring his son over to the U.S. earlier because of the Depression but was bringing him over now to work in his restaurant. He was asked the same long list of questions that his son had been asked. His answers were consistent with his son’s testimony, but the interrogator ended the interview by saying, “Isn’t it a fact that the applicant is not your blood son?” [The interrogators frequently asked this question, even if it was obvious that there was a blood relationship.] Hom Tin stated that Hom Sit was his blood son and the interview ended.
The Board of Special Inquiry reviewed Hom Tin’s San Francisco file and recalled Hom Sit to question him about a few discrepancies in the interviews. They considered that the alleged father had not been in China for nearly fifteen years. They concluded that the alleged father and applicant both ”testified in a straightforward manner” and there was a physical resemblance between them. The board determined that the relationship had been established. Hom Sit was admitted to the U.S. as a United States Citizen, son of an American born Chinese, on 10 October 1938, one month and a half after his arrival.
“Form 143 photo of Hom Sit; Hom Tin Affidavit; map of village” 1938, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Hom Sit case file, Seattle Box 767, file 7030/11371.