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Overlooked No More: Margaret Chung, Doctor Who Was ‘Different From Others’

This article is a part of Overlooked, a collection of obituaries about outstanding individuals whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

Margaret Chung knew from age 10 that she wished to turn into a medical missionary to China. She was impressed by tales her mom had instructed of life in a mission dwelling, the place her mom stayed as a toddler after emigrating from China to California. It is believed that she named Margaret after the house’s superintendent.

Religion was an necessary a part of younger Margaret’s life in California. She was raised in a Presbyterian family in Santa Barbara, the place her father insisted that the household pray earlier than each meal and sang hymns with the youngsters earlier than mattress.

So it was a blow that after graduating from medical faculty, on the University of Southern California, in 1916, her software to be a medical missionary was rejected thrice by administrative boards. Though she had been born on United States soil, she was thought to be Chinese, and no funding for Chinese missionaries existed.

Still, following that dream led her to a unique accolade: Chung turned the primary identified American girl of Chinese ancestry to earn a medical diploma, in accordance with her biographer.

She opened a non-public observe in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was one of many few locations that would offer Western medical care to Chinese and Chinese American sufferers, who have been usually scapegoated because the supply of epidemics and turned away by hospitals. (Her father died after he was denied therapy for accidents he sustained in a automotive accident.)

As a doctor and surgeon through the Second Sino-Japanese War (starting in 1937) and World War II, she was praised for her patriotic efforts, together with beginning a social community in California for pilots, navy officers, celebrities and politicians that she leveraged to assist in recruitment for the battle and to foyer for the creation of a women’s naval reserve.

Every Sunday she hosted dinners for males within the navy, catering for crowds of as much as 300 individuals, who known as her “Mom.” Her efforts caught the attention of the press, which portrayed her as representing unity between China and the U.S., allies within the battle.

Margaret Jessie Chung was born on Oct. 2, 1889, in Santa Barbara, Calif. At the time, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was in full power. Her dad and mom, who had immigrated from China within the 1870s, have been barred from acquiring U.S. citizenship underneath the act. They confronted restricted job alternatives, so the household moved round California as they regarded for work. Her father, Chung Wong, was a former service provider who toiled on California farms and offered greens. Her mom, Ah Yane, additionally farmed and generally labored as a courtroom interpreter.

Margaret herself was no stranger to onerous labor. She took on farming chores when her dad and mom have been unwell and helped elevate all 10 of her siblings, duties that disrupted her education; she didn’t full the eighth grade till she was 17. To fund the remainder of her schooling, she spent summer time evenings knocking on doorways to promote copies of The Los Angeles Times as a part of a contest for a scholarship, which she received. It paid for preparatory faculty, which enabled her to achieve acceptance to the University of Southern California College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1911.

“As the only Chinese girl in the U.S.C. medical school, I am compelled to be different from others,” she mentioned in a 1913 interview. She reinvented herself as “Mike,” slicking again her black hair and dressing in a protracted blazer draped over a shirt and tie, finishing the outfit with a floor-length skirt. She labored all through school, in accordance with her biography, generally scrubbing dishes at a restaurant whereas finding out textbooks propped on a shelf.

After she graduated and was rejected as a medical missionary, Chung turned to surgical procedure, performing trauma operations at Santa Fe Railroad Hospital in Los Angeles. Touring musicians and actors used the hospital; most famously, she eliminated the actress Mary Pickford’s tonsils.

Chung quickly established her personal non-public observe in Los Angeles, with a clientele that included actors within the film trade’s early days in Holllywood.

While accompanying two sufferers to San Francisco, Chung fell in love with town’s panorama, its dramatic hills cloaked in fog. After studying that no physician practiced Western drugs within the metropolis’s Chinatown, dwelling to the most important Chinese American inhabitants within the nation, she left her Los Angeles observe and arrange a clinic on Sacramento Street in 1922.

San Francisco was isolating. People from the neighborhood invited Chung out, however she declined, writing in her unpublished autobiography, “I was embarrassed because I couldn’t understand their flowery Chinese.” Rumors endured that as a result of she was single, she should have been inquisitive about women. She was protecting of her private life, however her biographer, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, mentioned Chung had frequented a North Beach speakeasy with Elsa Gidlow, who overtly wrote lesbian poetry.

Chung’s observe initially had problem attracting sufferers. But as phrase unfold, her ready room crammed, in some circumstances with white vacationers curious to see her Chinese-inspired furnishings and her session room, whose partitions have been plastered with footage of her movie star sufferers.

Years of planning and neighborhood fund-raising culminated within the opening of San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital in 1925. Chung turned certainly one of 4 division heads, main the gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics unit whereas nonetheless running her non-public observe.

When Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria in September 1931, an ensign within the United States Naval Reserves, trying to help the Chinese navy, visited Chung at her observe. She invited the person, who was a pilot, and 6 of his associates for a home-cooked dinner. It was the primary of many who she would host nearly each evening for months. It was, she wrote in her autobiography, “the most selfish thing I’ve ever done because it was more fun than I had ever known in all my life.”

Every Sunday, “Mom” personally catered suppers for a whole lot of her “boys.” By the tip of World War II, her “family” swelled to about 1,500. To assist preserve observe, everybody had a quantity and group: Leading pilots have been the Phi Beta Kappa of Aviation; those that couldn’t fly (together with celebrities and politicians) have been Kiwis; and the submarine items have been Golden Dolphins.

She known as upon influential members of her community to secretly recruit pilots for the American Flying Tigers, an American volunteer group that pushed again towards Japan’s invasion of China. She additionally enlisted two of her Kiwis to introduce a invoice within the U.S. House and Senate that led to the creation of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services in 1942, a naval group higher generally known as the WAVES. Eager to help her nation, she sought to affix the group however her software was rejected.

Despite her efforts, no official recognition of her contributions ever got here. After the battle ended, attendance at her Sunday dinners dwindled. Nevertheless, Chung continued to observe drugs, go to her navy “sons” and write her memoir.

She died of ovarian most cancers on Jan. 5, 1959. She was 69.


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