Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

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Contributed by Rahima Khatun

“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.”

— Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Born in 1896 in Guangzhou, China, Lee moved to New York with her family during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Acts. From 1882 to 1943, these acts aimed to curtail immigration from China through strict immigration requirements; only exceptions were made for groups such as students and missionaries. Her father was a missionary and, thus, was granted this exception. Furthermore, the Chinese Exclusion Acts prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming American citizens, thereby disenfranchising them.

This did not discourage Lee. Influenced by her father’s religious and nationalistic views of China and by New York’s tolerant environment, she began to write and speak publicly about suffrage. In 1912, she led a pro-suffrage parade on horseback in New York City to promote the enfranchisement of all women. In 1917, women finally acquired the right to vote in New York; Lee, unfortunately, she was not given this right since the Chinese Exclusion Acts were still in place.

Nevertheless, Lee did not give up and was determined to continue to advocate for Chinese-Americans. In 1926, she developed a community center in Chinatown intending to provide support and a feeling of freedom to those who were marginalized in American society. The center offered English classes, a medical clinic, and a kindergarten. She dedicated the remaining portion of her life to assisting Chinatown’s community.

Ultimately, Lee is a pivotal symbol of social change and perseverance for all women. Her dedication to suffrage and marginalized communities will be remembered for years to come.