Clara Chan Lee

Lived:October 21, 1886—October 5, 1993 (aged 106)

Clara Chan Lee was a Chinese-American suffragist, women’s rights activist, and community leader.

Born on October 21, 1886, in Portland, Oregon, to the Rev. Chan Hon Fun and Ow Muck Gay, both Chinese immigrants, Clara moved to Oakland, California, with her parents in the early twentieth century. She eventually married Charles Goodall Lee, the first licensed Chinese-American dentist in the United States.

After California passed woman suffrage in 1911, Lee, along with Emma Tom Leung, became the first Chinese-American woman to register to vote that same year. Tye Leung Schulze became the first Chinese-American woman to vote in 1912.

Lee founded the Chinese Women’s Jeleab [self-reliance] Association in 1913. The Jeleab Association, which was named after an Anglicized Chinese word, was meant to be an advocacy group and social club for Chinese women in the San Francisco and Oakland areas. While the organization disbanded a few years after its founding, the spirit of activism and community-building had already taken root. Also a member of the YWCA, the International Institute, and the Fidelis Coterie, Lee was an active part of the Chinese American community in Oakland for most of her life.

Clara Chan Lee died on October 5, 1993 at the age of 106.

Yung, Judy. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkely: University of California Press, 1995.