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Herstory: The Legal History of Chinese American Women: Dr. Chiu's Herstory Collection

Dr. Chiu Chang (邱彰博士) personal collection


Ah Toy's lawsuit was dismissed due to the ruling in People v. Hall in 1852

The most notorious Chinese-American prostitute, Ah Toy, sued Yee Ah Tye for demanding that her Dupont Street prostitutes pay him a tax. In the 1854 case of People v. Hall, the judge ruled that the Chinese had no business in American courts, and could not testify nor become witnesses. Ah Toy's lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.


In Chu Lung v. Freeman 92 U.S. 275 (1874), twenty-two Chinese women fought for their dignity

In Chu Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275, Chu Lung and 21 other Chinese women who arrived in San Francisco were classified as "lewd and debauched" and, therefore, must be prostitutes. Upon hearing testimony from a witness that only lewd Chinese women wore colorful bellybands, the judge found all 22 women guilty. However, the Supreme Court sided with the women. It ruled that Congress, not the states, had the power to regulate immigration. It declared that California law requiring a bond for all ill-defined class of people overstepped its boundary and that the women should be released.


The Page Act of 1875 forbade the entry of Chinese laborers and immoral Chinese women

Enforcement of the Page Act resulted not only in the reduction of prostitutes but also the "virtually complete exclusion of Chinese women from the United States." Therefore, Chinese were unable to create families in the United States. The Page Act was so successful in preventing Chinese women from immigration and consequently keeping the ratio of females to males so low that the law "paradoxically encouraged the very vice it purported to be fighting: prostitution."


The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law by President Chester A. Authur in 1882

It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in the U.S. history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The Act followed the Angell Treaty of 1880, a set of revisions to the U.S.-China Burlingame Treaty of 1868 that allowed the U.S. to suspend Chinese immigration.
The Act was initially intended to last for ten years, but was renewed in 1892 with the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States.
It was repealed by the Magnuson Act of 1943.


In Tape v. Hurley, Mamie Tape fought for the right to public education

Tape v. Hurley, 66 Cal. 473 (1885) was a landmark case in the California Supreme Court. In 1884, Mamie, then eight years old, was denied admission to the Spring Valley School due to her Chinese ancestry. Her parents sued the San Francisco Board of Education and won. Their argument was that the school violated California Political Code. The California Supreme Court unheld the decision. Justice McGuire wrote, "To deny a child, born of Chinese parents in thise state, entrance to the public schools would be a violation of the law of the state and the Consititution of the United States."
A bill was quickly passed to establish the Oriental Public School ini San Francisco. The school was renamed Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in 1998.


The Angry Angel of Chinatown, Donaldina Cameron, rescued 3,000 Chinese slave girls

Donaldina Cameron (July 26, 1869 - January 4, 1968) was a Presbyterian missionary who advocated for social justice. She rescued and educated more tan 3,000 Chinese immigrant girls and women who were sold into slavery during her ministry from 1895 to 1934. Cameron House still stands today in San Francisco.


Tye Leung Schulze became the first Chinese-American woman to vote in the presidential primary

Tye Leung was born in San Francisco in 1887. When she was 14, her parents arranged for her to marry an older man. She ran away and sought refuge with Donaldina Cameron. She became the first Chinese-American woman to pass the civil service examination. Not only was she the first Chinese woman hired to work at Angel Island, but she also became the first Chinese-American woman to vote in a presidential primary election when she casted a ballot in San Francisco on May 9, 1912.


Quok Shee was the longest involuntary resident of Angel Island

Immigrant quok Shee was the "alleged wife" of Chew Hoy Quong. Shen she arrived in San Francisco, she was detained and interrogated for nearly 2 years on Angel Island, Mostly because Chinese women were suspected to be prostitutes in that area.
More than an inch thick, her "investigation case file" was opened in September 1916 and was not closed until August 1918. She was repeatedly interrogated, denied access to a lawyer, plagued by depression, subjected to smallpox, and was isolated from a husband who was her only contact in America, yet whom she hardly knew. The file contained 150 court orders--all because on Chinese woman tried to enter the United States.
In 1927, her husband Chew told immigration authorities that his wife had complained he was not giving her enough money and had run off with another man.


Martha Lum was denied entry to a public school for white children

In 1924, a nine-year old Chinese-American naed Martan Lum was prohibited from attending Rosedale Consolidated High School in Bolivar County, Mississippi solely because she was on Chinese descent. The Supreme Court held that Gong Lum had not shown that there not segregated schools accessible for the educaiton of Marthan Lum in Mississippi; therefore, Martha Lum was not allowed to go to the scool for white children.
The picture directly below shows the two Lum sisters in thrid or forth grade in the first row among white students. It was likely that the Supreme Court decision was not known in other local schools, for Gong Lum moved the family to Elaine, Arkansas where his girls attended white public schools.
Lumv. Rice, 275 U.S. 78 (1927) was effectively overruled by the Cour's decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed segregation in public schools.


A "Paper Daughter" with six names

Louie Gu To was born in China in 1920. Her first name change happed in 1937 when she came to the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion era (1882-1943). One way to circumvent the discriminartory laws was to assume the identity of a U.S. citizen. Gum To's mother persuaded a family to let Gum To take their dead daughter's place. Gum To became Kam Sau Quon, a paper daughter. An America teacher gave her a new name, Lettie. When she married Thomas Wing Jue in 1945, her name became Lettie Jue. But Jue was Thomas' paper name and in 1952, he legally changed back to his real family surname, Lowe. Lettie was now Lettie Kam Lowe. After Thomas passed away, Lettie married Abelardo Cooper and her name changed to Lettie Lowe Cooper.
In 2015, her daugher Felicia Lowe made "Chinese Couplets", an acclaimed documentary about her mother's life. From "paper daughter" to successful entrepreneur, Lettie personalified to the American Dream.


Eileen Chan became U.S. citizen under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953

Under the REfugee Arelief Act of 1953, a refugee is defined as someone who lacks the essentials of life. The refugee quota allocated to the Chinese living in Hong Kong was 2,000. Famous writer Eileen Chan applied in 1955 under this Act and her applicaiton was approved quickly.
Maney of Eileen Chan's works were made into movies, including Lee Ang's Lust, Caution.


Mi Chu won her employment with the Library of Congress under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972

Mi Cu was the first Chinese-American woman to win a sex discrimination lawsuit under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
Originally from Taiwan, she obtained a Ph.D. from harvard University. in 1977, she applied for a job as a librarian with the Library of Congress. She was denied even an interview. She sued an won a sex discrimination-in-employment case against the Library of Congress (Mi Chu Wiens, Plaintiff v. Daniel J. Boorstin, Defendant, Civil Action No. 78-1034, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia). Her lawyer sent her a note: "Think of it, Mi Chu Wiens has defeated the United States of America."
She worked in the Library of Congress for 35 years and retired in 2012.


Lily Lee Chen became the first Chinese American woman mayor

Lily Lee Chen was born in Tianjin and raised in Taiwan. In 1958, she came to the U.S. for her graduate study of social work. In 1966 when she started to work for the Los Angeles County, social work had already become a red-hot career track for aspiring politicians. She used the grassroots approach and own the respect of her community. In 1983, Lily Lee Chen was elected mayor of Monterey Park, California and became the first Chinese American mayor.


Elaine Chao was the first Chinese-American woman cabinet secretary

Elaine Chao served as the 24th United States Secretary of Labor in the cabinet of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. She was the first Chinese-American woman to be appointed to a President's cabinet.


Judy Chu was the first Chinese American Congresswoman

Judy May Chu was the first Chinese-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. On June 18, 2012, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution introduced by Congresswoman Chu that formally expressed the regret of the House of Representatives for the Chinese Exclusion Act.


Dolly Gee becamuse the first female Chinese-American federal judge

Dolly Gee is the Federal District Court judge for the Central District Court of California. She was nominated by President Obama and approved by the entire Senate in 2009.


Amerasian Tony Wang found his father in Ohio after 41 years

in 2014, Dr. Chang Chen (aka. Dr. Chang Chiu), the curator of the exhibiton began researching the stories about Amerasians -- children born to American soldiers and their Asian mothers during 1950 to 1982. At the end of Vietnam War in 1975, more than 15,000 children were evacuated from South Vietname to America under "Operation Babylift". Not only did 3% of their father acknowledge them, but the Vietnamese community also dismissed them as "children of the dust". Most Amerasians has no connection whatsoever to the fathers. One such Amerasian was Tony Wang, an award winning rock singer who reached out to Dr. Chang Chen to help find his dad. After many false alarms and a grueling process of elimination, Dr. Chen found the correct Dave Brown in Ohio. After 41 years, the little boy who never knew his father was finally reunited with his long lost dad. Tony is now eligible to become an U.S. citizen under Public Law 97-359.

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