My Start Story Celebrates: Suffragist Mabel Lee

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: August 16, 2020, 8:00AM

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was born near Hong Kong in 1896, and was granted a visa as part of an academic scholarship that allowed her to join her father who was serving as a missionary in the United States. Her family settled in New York’s Chinatown, and she became a well known advocate for women’s suffrage in New York by the time she was a teenager.

She joined the Women’s Political Equality league, rallying the Chinese American community to support the movement, despite the knowledge that the Chinese Exclusion Act would prevent them from immediately benefitting from becoming citizens and voting at that time. She was the first woman to receive a PhD from Columbia, and despite a number of lucrative job opportunities, succeeded her father as head of the First Chinese Baptist Church in New York City after his sudden death, where she dedicated her life to serving the Chinatown community for the following forty years.

About the Narrator:
Author and Historian

Charlotte Brooks, PhD, has written extensively on Asian American history, with an emphasis on Chinese American History, authoring numerous articles and three books on the subject. She said of Lee, “She fought for women’s suffrage at a time in the United States that because of our immigration laws... she could not actually benefit from what she was fighting for, and I think that’s extraordinary, to fight for something because it’s right, it will benefit others, and it’s just. She just believed in the cause of women’s equality.”

Brooks is currently working on several books, including one titled An American Family: The Moys of Shanghai and New York about a Chinese American family that has deep roots in New York. She currently serves as Professor of History at Baruch College, City University of New York.

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