What You Should Know About Unsung Suffragist and TC Alum Mabel Ping-Hua Lee Inside Corporate Philanthropy with TC Alum Michelle …

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At just sixteen, Mabel Ping Hua-Lee was known for her significant contributions to the women’s suffrage movement by advocating for equal educational opportunities for Chinese women and children in America. Her bold presence and participation in many suffrage meetings led to an invitation to lead New York City’s famous 1912 suffrage parade, where the TC alum famously led the 10,000-strong march by horseback and was named “the symbol of a new era” by the New York Times.
For years to come, Lee would continue to persevere, using her platform to champion women’s suffrage despite facing obstacles around racial and gender discrimination. Her efforts and unwavering commitment played a critical role in advancing women’s rights and advocacy worldwide.
Today, Lee is recognized as a trailblazer in the suffrage movement, and her legacy exemplifies resilience and an unwavering commitment to gender equality. 
Here are just a few things we think you should know about Lee’s legacy:
1. Her story began in China.
Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was born in 1896 in Guangzhou, China. Her father moved to the States in 1904 to pursue baptist-missionary work, while Lee and her mother settled in Chinatown in 1905. She would go on to attend Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn. 
2. Education shaped her unique journey.
Lee’s educational path began at Barnard University in 1912, where she received her bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy. She then joined the Teachers College community in 1917, earning her master’s in education administration. She later studied at Columbia University, where she made history as the first Chinese woman ever to receive a Ph.D. in Economics in the United States.
Yet throughout her educational pursuits, Lee fervently advocated for women’s rights and even joined the Chinese Students’ Association, writing monthly feminist essays for the Association’s monthly publication.
3. She was a fierce advocate for women’s voting rights and equality. 
Despite her advocacy for women’s voting rights and the passage of the 19th Amendment, Lee herself was unable to vote due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first restriction on free immigration to the United States from China. However, she continued to champion the fight for women’s equality. 
In 1914, Lee wrote her famous essay, “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage,” where she urged advocacy for women’s voting rights and equal opportunities. And just two years later, she delivered “The Submerged Half,” a speech she wrote for the Women’s Political Union’s Suffrage Shop, where she stated, “I plead for a wider sphere of usefulness for the long submerged women of China. I ask for our girls the open door to the treasury of knowledge, the same opportunities for physical development as boys, and the same rights of participation in all human activities of which they are individually capable.”
4. She was a community leader.
For Lee, service and engagement in her Chinatown community were among her passions. She spent much of her youth aiding in her father’s ministry at Morningside Mission and supporting organizations like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). 
After her father’s passing in 1924, Lee assumed leadership of the First Chinese Baptist Church. In honor of her father’s legacy, she founded the Chinese Christian Center to offer services like free healthcare and English language learning classes. She would go on to spend many years of her later life working with the Center.
5. Her legacy carries a lasting impact on women today.
Lee passed away in 1966 at the age of 69 years old. While the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted in 1943, it remains unclear whether Lee herself secured the right to vote. However, she certainly paved the way for women across America to do so. In 2018, the Chinatown Post Office was officially renamed “The Mabel Lee Memorial Post Office” to honor Lee’s impact on her local community.
— Jacqueline Teschon

Published Friday, Mar 8, 2024

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