No longer overlooked: Margaret Chung, doctor who was ‘different from others’ | ET REALITY


This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about notable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, were not reported in The Times.

Margaret Chung knew from the age of 10 that she wanted to be a medical missionary in China. She was inspired by the stories her mother had told her about her life in a missionary home, where her mother stayed when she was a child after emigrating from China to California. She named Margaret after the house superintendent.

Religion was an important part of young Margaret’s life in California. She was raised in a Presbyterian home, where her father insisted that the family pray before every meal and sing hymns with the children before bed.

So it was a blow that after graduating from the University of Southern California medical school in 1916, the administrative boards three times rejected her application to be a medical missionary. Although she had been born on American soil, she was considered Chinese and there was no funding for Chinese missionaries.

Still, following that dream led to a different accolade: Chung became the first known American woman of Chinese descent to earn a medical degree, according to her biographer.

He opened a private practice in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was one of the few places that provided Western medical care to Chinese and Chinese-American patients, who were often scapegoated as the source of epidemics and rejected by hospitals. (His father died after being denied treatment for injuries he suffered in a car accident.)

As a doctor and surgeon during the Second Sino-Japanese War (which began in 1937) and World War II, she was praised for her patriotic efforts, including starting a social network in California for pilots, military officers, celebrities, and politicians that she took advantage of. to assist in recruiting for the war and lobby for the creation of a women’s naval reserve.

Every Sunday she hosted dinners for army men, serving crowds of up to 300 people, who called her “Mom.” Her efforts attracted the attention of the press, which presented her as a representative of unity between China and the United States, allies in the war.

Margaret Jessie Chung was born on October 2, 1889 in Santa Barbara, California. At that time, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was in full force. Her parents, who had immigrated from China in the 1870s, were prohibited from obtaining American citizenship under the law. They faced limited job opportunities, so the family moved across California in search of work. Her father, Chung Wong, was a former merchant who worked hard on California farms and sold vegetables. Her mother, Ah Yane, also worked in agriculture and sometimes worked as a court interpreter.

Margaret herself was no stranger to hard labor. She took over farm chores when her parents were unwell and she helped raise her 10 siblings, duties that interrupted her education; she did not complete the eighth grade until she was 17 years old. To finance the rest of her education, she spent summer afternoons knocking on doors to sell copies of the Los Angeles Times as part of a scholarship contest, which she won. She paid for high school, allowing her to be accepted into the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of Southern California in 1911.

“As the only Chinese girl in the USC medical school, I am forced to be different from the others,” she said in a 1913 interview. She reinvented herself as “Mike,” slicking her black hair back and wearing a jacket long over a shirt and tie, completing the ensemble with a floor-length skirt. He worked throughout college, sometimes washing dishes in a restaurant while studying textbooks leaning on a shelf.

After graduating and being rejected as a medical missionary, Chung turned to surgery and performed trauma operations at the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital in Los Angeles. Touring musicians and actors used the hospital; Most famously, she removed actress Mary Pickford’s tonsils.

Chung soon established his own private practice in Los Angeles, with a clientele that included actors from the early days of the film industry in Hollywood.

While accompanying two patients to San Francisco, Chung fell in love with the city’s landscape, its spectacular hills shrouded in fog. After learning that no doctors practiced Western medicine in the city’s Chinatown, home to the country’s largest Chinese-American population, she left her practice in Los Angeles and opened a clinic on Sacramento Street in 1922.

San Francisco was isolated. People in the community invited Chung to leave, but she refused, writing in her unpublished autobiography: “I felt embarrassed because I couldn’t understand her flowery Chinese.” Rumors persisted that, since she was single, she must be interested in women. She was protective of her personal life, but her biographer, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, said Chung had frequented a North Beach speakeasy with Elsa Gidlow, who openly wrote lesbian poetry.

Chung’s practice initially had difficulty attracting patients. But as word spread, her waiting room filled up, in some cases with white tourists curious to see her Chinese-inspired furniture and her consultation room, whose walls were covered with photographs of her famous patients.

Years of planning and community fundraising culminated in the opening of the San Francisco Chinese Hospital in 1925. Chung became one of four department heads, directing the gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics unit while still running her private practice.

When Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria in September 1931, an ensign in the United States Naval Reserves, seeking to support the Chinese military, visited Chung at his practice. He invited the man, who was a pilot, and six of his friends to a home-cooked dinner. It was the first of many he would host almost every night for months. It was, he wrote in his autobiography, “the most selfish thing I have ever done in my life because it was the most fun I had ever known in my entire life.”

Every Sunday, “Mom” personally prepared dinner for hundreds of her “kids.” By the end of World War II, her “family” had grown to about 1,500 members. To help keep track, everyone had a number and a group: the top pilots were Phi Beta Kappa Aviation; Those who couldn’t fly (including celebrities and politicians) were the Kiwis; and the submarine units were Golden Dolphins.

He called on influential members of his network to secretly recruit pilots for the American Flying Tigers, an American volunteer group that resisted the Japanese invasion of China. He also recruited two of his Kiwis to introduce a bill in the US House and Senate that led to the creation of Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services in 1942, a naval group better known as WAVES. Eager to support her country, she attempted to join the group but her request was rejected.

Despite his efforts, no official recognition of his contributions ever came. After the war ended, attendance at his Sunday dinners declined. However, Chung continued to practice medicine, visiting his military “children,” and writing his memoirs.

She died of ovarian cancer on January 5, 1959. She was 69 years old.

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