Neglected No Extra: Margaret Chung, Physician Who Was ‘Completely different From Others’

This text is a part of Neglected, a collection of obituaries about exceptional individuals whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Occasions.

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’s believed that she named Margaret after the house’s superintendent.

Faith was an vital 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 kids earlier than mattress.

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

Nonetheless, following that dream led her to a special accolade: Chung grew to become the primary recognized American lady of Chinese language ancestry to earn a medical diploma, in response to her biographer.

She opened a personal apply in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was one of many few locations that would supply Western medical care to Chinese language and Chinese language American sufferers, who had been typically 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 Conflict (starting in 1937) and World Conflict II, she was praised for her patriotic efforts, together with beginning a social community in California for pilots, army officers, celebrities and politicians that she leveraged to assist in recruitment for the struggle and to foyer for the creation of a ladies’s naval reserve.

Each Sunday she hosted dinners for males within the army, catering for crowds of as much as 300 individuals, who referred to as her “Mother.” Her efforts caught the eye of the press, which portrayed her as representing unity between China and the U.S., allies within the struggle.

Margaret Jessie Chung was born on Oct. 2, 1889, in Santa Barbara, Calif. On the time, the 1882 Chinese language Exclusion Act was in full pressure. Her dad and mom, who had immigrated from China within the 1870s, had been barred from acquiring U.S. citizenship beneath 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 bought greens. Her mom, Ah Yane, additionally farmed and generally labored as a court docket interpreter.

Margaret herself was no stranger to laborious labor. She took on farming chores when her dad and mom had 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 training, she spent summer time evenings knocking on doorways to promote copies of The Los Angeles Occasions as a part of a contest for a scholarship, which she gained. It paid for preparatory faculty, which enabled her to realize acceptance to the College of Southern California School of Physicians and Surgeons in 1911.

“As the one Chinese language woman in the usC. medical faculty, I’m compelled to be totally different from others,” she mentioned in a 1913 interview. She reinvented herself as “Mike,” slicking again her black hair and dressing in an extended blazer draped over a shirt and tie, finishing the outfit with a floor-length skirt. She labored all through faculty, in response to 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 personal apply in Los Angeles, with a clientele that included actors within the film trade’s early days in Holllywood.

Whereas 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 language American inhabitants within the nation, she left her Los Angeles apply and arrange a clinic on Sacramento Road in 1922.

San Francisco was isolating. Folks from the group invited Chung out, however she declined, writing in her unpublished autobiography, “I used to be embarrassed as a result of I couldn’t perceive their flowery Chinese language.” Rumors continued that as a result of she was single, she will need to have been all in favour of ladies. She was protecting of her private life, however her biographer, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, mentioned Chung had frequented a North Seashore speakeasy with Elsa Gidlow, who brazenly wrote lesbian poetry.

Chung’s apply initially had problem attracting sufferers. However as phrase unfold, her ready room crammed, in some circumstances with white vacationers curious to see her Chinese language-inspired furnishings and her session room, whose partitions had been plastered with photos of her celeb sufferers.

Years of planning and group fund-raising culminated within the opening of San Francisco’s Chinese language Hospital in 1925. Chung grew to become one in all 4 division heads, main the gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics unit whereas nonetheless working her personal apply.

When Japan invaded the Chinese language province of Manchuria in September 1931, an ensign in america Naval Reserves, trying to assist the Chinese language army, visited Chung at her apply. 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, “probably the most egocentric factor I’ve ever finished as a result of it was extra enjoyable than I had ever recognized in all my life.”

Each Sunday, “Mother” personally catered suppers for a whole bunch of her “boys.” By the tip of World Conflict II, her “household” swelled to about 1,500. To assist preserve monitor, everybody had a quantity and group: Main pilots had been the Phi Beta Kappa of Aviation; those that couldn’t fly (together with celebrities and politicians) had been Kiwis; and the submarine items had been Golden Dolphins.

She referred to as upon influential members of her community to secretly recruit pilots for the American Flying Tigers, an American volunteer group that pushed again in opposition to Japan’s invasion of China. She additionally enlisted two of her Kiwis to introduce a invoice within the U.S. Home and Senate that led to the creation of Ladies Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Companies in 1942, a naval group higher often known as the WAVES. Wanting to assist her nation, she sought to hitch the group however her software was rejected.

Regardless of her efforts, no official recognition of her contributions ever got here. After the struggle ended, attendance at her Sunday dinners dwindled. However, Chung continued to apply drugs, go to her army “sons” and write her memoir.

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

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