Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Lived:January 1, 1896—January 1, 1966 (aged 70)

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was a Chinese-American suffragist, economist and community leader.

Born in Guangzhou, China, in 1896, Lee immigrated to the U.S. on an academic scholarship at the age of 9. Starting in her teens, Lee became an active figure in the New York suffrage movement. In 1912, Lee, on horseback, helped lead a suffrage parade of 10,000 people, for which she was written about by both the New York Tribune and New York Times. The same year, Lee entered Barnard College, joined the Chinese Students’ Association, and wrote essays on feminism and suffrage for The Chinese Students’ Monthly. In May 1914, Lee wrote an essay titled, “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage,” which argued that equality for women was essential for democracy. Lee also gave a 1915 speech to the Women’s Political Union titled “The Submerged Half,” advocating for girls’ education and women’s civic participation, particularly among the Chinese-American community.

The great irony of Lee’s fierce advocacy for suffrage was that, due to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens and, thus, were barred from voting. This law was not repealed until 1943 and large-scale Chinese immigration did not return until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965.

After her graduation from Barnard College, Lee earned her PhD in economics from Columbia University, becoming the first Chinese woman to do so. After her father’s death in 1924, Lee took over as director of the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York City. She then founded the Chinese Christian Center, which acted as a community center, offering vocational training, English classes, a health clinic and a kindergarten. Lee died in 1966 at the age of 70.

Information taken from:

“Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed December 19, 2019.