Women in International Development

In what ways have women contributed to development within their society and/or community?

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Leading Development at Home: Dr. Mabel Ping Hua Lee (1896–1966)

WCIU Journal: Women in International Development Topic

November 01, 2016

by Grace May

A Bold and Bright Voice

In the early 1900’s, “suffrage” was a word to be eschewed in polite company, much the way that “feminism” today would be looked upon askance in certain circles. Undaunted, a bright, Hong Kong-born Christian by the name of Mabel Ping Hua Lee championed the cause. While her name is often overlooked in the annals of the movement, she was a voice and model for women’s empowerment in her adopted city of New York.

For Mabel Lee, women’s rights flowed out of a Christian worldview that she viewed as foundational for America’s government and the key to China’s reconstruction. With her doctorate from Columbia University in hand, Dr. Lee eagerly anticipated returning to China to use her background in economics, education and political science to support the building of the young Republic. A combination of forces, however, led her to a different decision. Instead of entering into development on the international scene, she chose to focus on the ministry at her doorsteps in Chinatown. As the director of the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York City (1926–1966), she built up a church that also served as a community center for many Chinese immigrants.1 Not only did the church cater to Chinese worshipers2 but from the moment a person stepped through the doors, they could choose to take English classes, enroll their children in Sunday School in English, or attend a Bible study and prayer meetings in Chinese. In addition, annual Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, cooked by church members, made people feel more than welcome, it made them feel at home.

The Making of a Scholar-Activist

On January 1, 1912, Sun Yat-sen overthrew the last emperor of China, ushering in the Republic of China and bringing to an end over three thousand years of dynastic rule. Four months later, half way across the world, on May 6, 1912, Mary Louise Wright reports, “Chinese Girl to Ride at Head of Suffrage Parade.” In a loose newspaper clipping found in the archives of the First Chinese Baptist Church, Wright details that a sixteen-year-old Mabel Lee, the daughter of a Chinese minister, led the suffrage parade in New York City. At the time Mabel was still a student at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, one of the special schools designed to accommodate the new influx of immigrant children.3 While many Americans avoided publicaly showing support for suffrage, the Lee family embraced the cause – Mabel’s mother with her bound feet quietly participated, and her father was proud that he had invested in his daughter’s education as much as he would have any son. Consequently, Mabel was able to remain a filial daughter, honoring her parents, while adopting progressive ideals that were permeating cities across the nation and the world.4

In 1913, Lee applied to and was accepted at Barnard College, one of the Seven Sisters colleges, and was the first woman to receive a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship. From the start, she threw herself, heart and mind, into her studies and promoted women’s rights. A confident and articulate leader, she defended her position in the Chinese Student Monthly (1914), gave an award-winning speech entitled “Chinese Patriotism” (1914), spoke on “China’s Submerged Half” (c.1915), gave a speech at the Suffrage Workshop (1915), and even ran for president of the Chinese Students Association (1917).

Majoring in history and philosophy at Barnard, Lee often cited examples of women’s oppression in China and America in her writings and speeches. In her article on “The Meaning of Suffrage” (1914), she summarized the history of women’s education as girls proving their mettle from the 3 R’s to secondary school to university (Lee 1914, 3). By contrast in “China’s Submerged Half,” Lee compared the plight of China’s daughters, remaining confined to their homes, subservient to their husbands, and often with bound feet. In 1700 years, rarely was any thought given to Chinese daughters receiving an education. Crediting Western cross-cultural workers with opening schools for girls and women in China for the first time, Lee now called on her Chinese classmates to help further empower their sisters in China who were “half free, half shackled,” needing laws to be enforced to safeguard their rights (Lee 1915, 5).

Addressing the Roots of Women’s Rights

Lee saw suffrage as an outgrowth of democracy and both rights as expressions of Christian values. In describing the progression of democracy, she wrote, “true feminism” is “the extension of democracy or social justice and equality of opportunities to women” (Lee 1914, 531). If properly extended to women, democracy would demand that women receive the same opportunities as men and be held to the same standards as men. While acknowledging that independence for women in China would necessarily look different from independence in America, Lee nevertheless affirmed democracy in any country unfolding along common lines, a process involving “four stages”: moral, legal, political and economic. The first stage is moral, which could also be characterized as spiritual or religious, and is “represented by the early Christian movement” with its call to treat the servant and the ruler as equals before God. The principal is embodied in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (1914, 527). The second stage is legal and refers to equality before the law, which originated with the Magna Carta (1914, 527). The third is political and entails the right to choose those who govern, a fundamental right established in the Declaration of Independence, which women were currently seeking and Lee noted was compromised by the “negro question” (1914, 527). Finally, the fourth is economic, which promises “full reward of labor” to all workers. In protest of the great disparities of income that she saw, Lee actually advocated for government ownership of the means of production. While the idea is borrowed from the Communist Manifesto, Lee still saw a socialist outworking of economic equality as integral to a truly democratic society (1914, 527). As the twentieth century unfolded, Lee’s vision of democracy paralleled the four stages of development in China more closely than it did in America.

Lee elaborated on the relevance of economics to women’s empowerment:

The history of this economic phase [of democracy] divides itself into three … conceptions. First, there is the old conception that woman, single or married, should remain at home. Then there comes the industrial revolution, taking the industry out of the home and consequently taking the woman out with it. In order to meet this new condition, there arises a second conception, that woman must choose from the two prerogatives of either getting married or going out to business, and that as soon as a woman gets married she must leave her profession and stay at home. The second conception is the one we are living under, but there is a third conception on its way which says that woman whether married or not should have economic freedom. (1914, 529)

In direct rebuttal to anti-suffrage arguments in China that believed women’s nature and abilities made her predisposed to stay at home, Lee argued that educated, professional women offered far more to their families than homemakers, who focused exclusively on domestic chores. Rather than remaining “distinctly inferior to man intellectually,” a woman could actually gain from having employment outside the home (1914, 530). The mental stimulation would enrich her marriage and could make her intellectually more compatible to her husband, lessening the chances of him “rush[ing] to his club or other congenial society (1914, 530). Lee contended that “if they [husband and wife] both can be self-supporting,” and a woman “does not marry for mercenary purposes,” there would be a greater degree of mutual respect in the marriage, which could only benefit both partners (1914, 530). Finally, Lee suggested that a child turns to a mother most for “sympathy and confidence” and if a mother “has some intellectual interest to occupy her for a part of the day,” she could then return to her childrearing duties “fresher” (1914, 530).

Implicit in Lee’s arguments is the fact that a woman is human; therefore, her growth and well being are important. Dr. Louise Edwards, a professor of modern Chinese history, has observed that the women’s movement in China prioritized the Enlightenment value of “natural rights” over “natural order.” Those who advocate for natural rights seek equality on the basis that men and women are created equal and therefore should have equal rights; whereas those who insist on “natural order” adhere to a social order based on the belief that men and women each have a different essence and therefore their roles in society necessarily differ. Adherents of the natural order even occasionally argued that women were “equal but different” (Edwards 2005, 118-21). From a biblical worldview, however, what is our common humanity and equality rooted in, if not our being created in the divine image? As Lee clearly upholds a Christ-centered worldview, it would be fascinating to explore whether in her sermons or other writings, she develops the theme of imago Dei or another line of theological argumentation in support of women’s empowerment.

Addressing the Roots of Nation Building

Lee connected the full rights of women to nation building, which was strategic. By the 1920’s it was a foregone conclusion in China that to establish a constitutional form of government would require change, and much of the educated class regarded the change positively. In Lee’s own words, “the feministic movement is not one for privileges to women, but one for the requirement of women to be worthy citizens [who] contribute their share to the steady progress of our country towards prosperity and national greatness” (1914, 531). To support women’s rights was a step to a brighter future.

In “China’s Submerged Half,” Lee opens with a personal plea.

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 [italics provided by author].

Lee’s allusion to education and even political engagement would not have been lost on her Chinese or American audience. Her appeal to “usefulness,” however, was a distinctly nineteenth century Protestant theme that appeared in correspondence and writings of Christian women working cross-culturally. Education, for instance, was not intended as a reason for boasting or self-improvement, nor was it meant as an outward adornment to make one more attractive to a suitor, but the goal of female education was to equip women with the skills to make them “useful” (Robert 1997, 33-35). Standing on the shoulders of a century of women cross-cultural workers, motivated by a deep desire to be “useful” in God’s vineyard, Lee was similarly calling on twentieth century Chinese Christian women to demonstrate their “usefulness” as both a sign of genuine conversion and a mark of Christian discipleship.

In the nineteenth century, there was not as sharp a divide between social reform and evangelism as a means of reaching the world for Christ. According to the religious historian Rev. Dr. Timothy Tseng, “[Lee’s] father’s generation never questioned the social usefulness of Protestant Christianity for modern China” (Tseng 1996, 3). Lee’s father, Rev. Towe Lee (1861–1924) benefitted from both the educational and evangelistic arms of the church. While at a school in China established by cross-cultural workers, Towe converted to Christianity and learned English. Building schools, establishing hospitals and training leaders as well as evangelizing the nation were all part of the Christian legacy of the nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, many Americans and Chinese assumed that in the diplomatic service as well as ministry, Christianity would continue to be useful in the as the new Republic embarked on the road to a more democratic form of government.

Part of what made women’s empowerment appealing in the beginning of the twentieth century was that it was not couched in self-serving terms but as part of a larger discourse on nation building, as attested to by Dr. Edwards. “During these early decades of the twentieth century China’s suffrage activists emerged as self-sacrificing, loyal political workers whose goal lay not in wresting power from men for selfish political gain. Rather, their goals were to modernize the nation, to rebuild the nation and to win international respectability for the nation” (Edwards 2005, 109). Identifying the motivation of pioneers in the women’s rights movement as “self-sacrificing” was key, because it reflected the traditional values of a virtuous Chinese wife, mother and daughter while simultaneously stretching their roles to include care for one’s nation. To depict the transformation for women, not as a radical departure from tradition, but as part of a continuum, allowed a Confucian vision of womanhood to extend into the modern era insofar as “self-sacrifice” was simultaneously at the heart of the Confucian ethic and the core of Christianity (Edwards 2005, 109-110).

A Decisive Turn in Lee’s Career

During the 1920’s and 30’s, after years of study, preparing to contribute to the reform efforts in China, Lee yearned to return to China. In 1921, the same year she graduated with a doctoral degree from Columbia University, her dissertation The Economic History of China, With Special Reference to Agriculture was published. Her book provided a technical recounting of the agricultural policies from the beginnings of Chinese civilization through the establishment of the Republic of China. Her fluency in Chinese and English proved an enormous asset as she was able to read all the Chinese sources in the original and provide her analysis adeptly in English.

Lee was part of an elite coterie of Western trained, Chinese scholars, many of whom would exert enormous influence on the world stage in the decades to come. Lee’s friend Hu Shih (1891-1962), for example, had received a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship and was sent to Cornell University as an undergraduate to study agriculture but in 1912 switched his major to literature and philosophy. He then pursued his doctoral studies in literature at Columbia University, where he graduated in 1917, just as Lee was beginning her doctoral program. Later Hu became the ambassador of the Republic of China to the United States (1938–1942) and chancellor of Peking University (1946–1948). In 1929, as she would later write in a letter, “It seems that China is run by my personal friends. One is head of this University and another of that; one is in charge of all the railroads in China, and another of Finance or Education” (as quoted in Tseng 1996, 5).

The October 1921 issue of the Christian China journal announced that, “Miss Mabel Lee received the degree of the doctorate of philosophy from Columbia University, New York” and that she “is planning to return to China in the near future” (Christian China 1921, 89). In 1923, The Metropolitan Baptist Bulletin of New York City reported that in March of that year Lee set sail for France to study “European Economics, in fuller preparation for her life work, in her native land, China” and anticipated that “a position of great trust and signal honor awaits her arrival in China” (Metropolitan Baptist Bulletin 1923, 10). In fact, Lee was offered a position as the Dean of Women students at the Amoy University, but she declined, preferring to enter into business with an export firm in Hong Kong (Gee 2001, 14-15).

Although only blocks away from Wall Street and a short distance from the Upper East Side, the dilapidated streets of Chinatown seemed worlds away from the rich, gilded community of New York City. While a member of the privileged Chinese American upper class, Lee, was still a non-white immigrant who had to rely on the goodwill of American benefactors to travel abroad or even within the United States. Prejudice was a reality. She experienced blatant American affronts and endured the racist policies embodied in the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, prohibiting Chinese laborers from entering the country, and the Immigration Act of 1924, that outlawed all Asian immigration.

Then tragedy struck on Sunday, November 23, 1924, four days before Thanksgiving. Rev. Lee Towe, suddenly died while arbitrating in a tong (gang) war. The heart attack or stroke that took away Mabel’s father’s life interrupted her career path, but when duty called, she responded with alacrity. On the first day of the new year in 1925, Lee who was still in her twenties accepted the appointment to be the Superintendent and Minister in charge of the Morning Star Mission by the New York City Baptist Mission Society and the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Galvanizing volunteers from her network of associates from Columbia University, Chinatown businesses and her denomination, she led a school for young immigrants, age fifteen to twenty, from Monday through Friday from seven o’clock to nine o’clock in the evenings, concluding with a daily devotional (Quan 2016, 6). Then on Sundays, she led worship services and other special gatherings at the church. The Metropolitan Baptist Bulletin recorded Lee’s reflections. “I can think of nothing more attractive than our work of shaping these young lives into the stature of Christian manhood. What a privilege to look into the face of a growing boy and have his faith and confidence and see him grow in Christ and Christ in him!” (as quoted in Quan 106, 6). Within a year’s time, seventeen openly confessed Christ and were baptized. As Lee was not ordained, she invited a minister who was, to officiate (Quan 2016, 6).

Although Lee operated at a distinct disadvantage as an unordained, Chinese woman overseeing the church, she did not let these handicaps deter her. Her father had won the trust of Chinatown leaders and residents, becoming the president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and the chairperson of the Lin Sing Welfare Society. Consequently, she did not hesitate to call upon these groups to donate to a memorial fund to honor her father, despite the fact that these organizations were dominated by male leaders who probably did not share the same progressive ideas about women that her father did. Growing up under her father’s tutelage would have nurtured Lee in a robust evangelical faith; at the same time, during her adult years, she would have been exposed to the Social Gospel that was emanating from bastions like Union Theological Seminary. Located across the street from Columbia, Union ordained its first woman in 1897. Regardless, Lee never expressed any interest in attending seminary, rather her goal remained to contribute her expertise in education and economics to China’s reconstruction.

On July 3, 1925, the same year Lee assumed the leadership of the church in response to the anti-imperialism fomenting in China, she wrote a circular letter to her congregation, still preserved though not collated in the church’s archives. She urged her hearers not to blame all of China’s woes on foreign powers but to respond as Christians “by putting Christ within” their hearts.

It is not the nationality which counts. Not all Chinese are to be trusted, and not all foreigners are anxious to crush us. We have many foreign friends who are very anxious to help us win our rights. The difference lies in the fact that they have Christianity in their hearts. . . Christianity is the salvation of China, and the salvation of the whole world. (Lee 1925)

She insisted that Christian faith and practice held the solutions to humanity’s problems. It was not only doctrine, but principals put into practice that would bring about the necessary transformation of society. She saw Christian values as central in replacing imperial rule with democracy in China and no less so in bringing about the passage of the nineteenth amendment in the United States.

Lee’s idealism and faith, however, did not shield her from conflict within her denomination or weariness from long days of ministry. The path began happily enough. In 1926, the congregation officially incorporated as the First Chinese Baptist Church. Congratulations poured in from the Consul General, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the Lin Sing Welfare Society, and Chinese churches throughout the United States and even Canada. Gifts and donations were given both to celebrate the opening of the church and to commemorate the death of Rev. Lee Towe, the founder of the Baptist outreach in Chinatown. Lee and Dr. Charles H. Sears, the Superintendent of the New York City Baptist Mission Society, collaborated to collect monies to build her father a memorial (Tseng 1996, 6).

Initially the American Baptist Home Society purchased the building at 21 Pell Street in Chinatown (the current location of First Chinese Baptist Church), but afterwards it was deemed inadequate for the community center. Aided by a substantial contribution from an E.L. Ballard, however, Lee was able to purchase a building around the block at 7-9 Mott Street, the location of the restaurant where Rev. Lee Towe was killed. The hope was then to use the money from the sale of 21 Pell Street to pay for renovations for the building on Mott Street, a decision for which Lee was able to gain Sears’ support. After the Depression, however, when real estate prices plummeted, the New York City Baptist Mission Society desired to sell the Pell Street property. Knowing how essential it was for the church to be free from denominational control, Lee was willing to invest all of her family’s savings and business income to buy the property. Her only stipulation was that the title be transferred to the church. After successful negotiations, the mission society went back on its promise. For two decades Lee persisted in her efforts to try to obtain the title, so convinced was she of the importance of the church owning its own property and not being beholden to the denomination. But all she met with was frustration and disgust. The denomination refused to relinquish control. It was only in 1944 after the death of Sears, that Lee was able to seize the title, but it would take another ten years before the title was legally vested in the church (Tseng 1996, 8-11).

In truth Lee may have made her most important decision with respect to the church back in 1937, when she made her final trip to China, carrying a letter of endorsement from Sears. It was this trip that sealed her decision to remain in the U.S. China and Japan were at war, and Nanjing and Shanghai were in ruins. The level of violence, political turbulence and hazardous road conditions made it unwise to relocate to China. In the end, she would not fulfill her dream to contribute to the modernization of her country of origin, but her long and arduous battle with her denomination had secured an independent identity for her congregation as a Chinese church. Finally, First Chinese Baptist Church would no longer be regarded as a denominational outpost.

By the mid-1950’s, Lee was the uncontested leader of the church. No longer embroiled in the fight over the property, she could turn her attention to building up the congregation. Unfortunately, at age sixty, her energies were limited and the membership of the church had declined, but she nonetheless focused on the educational and spiritual empowerment of her congregation. She taught English to immigrants and mentored a younger generation of Chinese American students. Deacon Steven Gee (1925–2001) who grew up under her mentorship graduated with a degree in engineering and was the first Chinese American to be hired by AT&T. Mrs. Rose Eng, who remained active in the City College of Chinese Alumni Association, remembered Lee taking her family and her to visit the campus of Columbia University. Similarly, Deacon Gary Quan, who is currently still active in the church’s leadership, recalls how Lee drove him up to Columbia University when he was still a youth and how she quipped that he could go through the school in one day while it took her years. Lee invested in so many young lives, helping them to apply to college and to aspire for more for themselves (Quan 2016, 5-6).

Lee endured the fall out of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy and the changing demographics of Chinese immigration. With more relaxed immigration policies in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mandarin-speaking Chinese and Taiwanese started entering New York City. While Lee never joined the ranks of liberal Christians, like many Protestants in her generation, she adhered to an evangelicalism that valued and encouraged civic involvement. The church was intended to be a place of nurture, which included assisting immigrants to adopt to their new home, whether that was by helping them acquire fluency in English or insuring that their children received an excellent education. In contrast, a new breed of independent Chinese pastors who focused almost exclusively on piety and evangelism were reaching America’s shores. Converted through revivalist preaching by independent Christian preachers, they represented a separatist stream of evangelicalism that tended to be more theologically conservative than mainstream, denominational Protestantism. As a result, those seeking a more theological conservative church left the congregation while other younger members of First Chinese Baptist chose to go to congregations with more people their age. Deacon Quan captured the essence of Lee’s beliefs: “Dr. Mabel Lee espoused the godly virtue of being faithful or doing one’s duty on the personal level individually and on the corporate level to society” (Quan 2016, 5). Civic responsibility was elevated to a sacred duty, or as Hu Shih elegantly put it, Lee’s goal was to build a church with a vision to promote justice courageously (captured in the four-word Chinese proverb jian yi yong wei).

During Lee’s last years of ministry, Lee chose to preach on different hymns of the church and their authors. Three of her favorite hymns embodied her convictions: “Rise Up, O Men of God,” written by William Pierson Merrill; “I Would Be True,” written by Howard Arnold Walter; and “This Is My Father’s World,” written by Maltie B. Babcock (Quan 2016, 5). Rev. Merill (1867-1951) was a Presbyterian minister, a graduate from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a pacifist and the pastor of the prestigious Brick Presbyterian Church on the Upper East Side of New York City. In the very first stanza of “Rise Up, O Men of God,” Merill calls for undivided devotion, “Give heart and mind and soul and strength to serve the King of Kings.” Then with confidence he calls for “the men of God” to “bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong,” for “the church doth wait … rise up and make her great.” The call for an elite corp of Christian leaders echoes Lee’s belief that democracy is actually a meritocracy, where those who have made the most of their opportunities and talents earn the right to govern (Lee 1914, 528). The belief in progress and the ability to usher in a better world, rings true in the hymn “I Would Be Strong,” especially in the line, “I would be brave, for there is much to dare.” The future envisioned by both of these hymns reflected a post-millennial belief that God would usher in a reign of peace and harmony before Christ’s return. In light of a glorious future, it was the Christian’s duty to be “true,” “pure,” “strong,” “brave,” “giving,” “humble,” and “faithful.”  In keeping with the optimistic spirit of these hymns, many Protestant congregations in the 1950’s enjoyed numerical growth and participated in expansive building campaigns. Rev. Walter (1883–1918) actually wrote “I Would Be True” as a poem for his mother while teaching as a YMCA missionary at the esteemed Forman Christian College in India (now relocated to Punjab, Pakistan). His sacrificial life, cut short by a bout with influenza, would not have been lost on Lee, who journeyed to a far off land and invested her life in planting a community center in Chinatown. Finally, despite extolling the beauty of the created order “This Is My Father’s World,” Rev. Babcock (1858–1901) had to remind himself “O let me ne’er forget that, though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” and reassure himself, in lines that are most often left out in today’s hymnals, “Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is king; let the heavens ring!” Lauded as a great orator, the young pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church, nevertheless, struggled with depression and ultimately succumbed to suicide. During Lee’s long, drawn out struggle with the denomination while she was single-handedly shouldering the burden of the church, the hope is that the lives of these hymnists might have comforted her, letting her know that she was not alone in her suffering or devotion.

Lee passed quietly from the scene in 1966, but not without leaving a legacy. She had fought and won on so many fronts. As a college student she advocated for women’s rights and participated in the move to extend the suffrage to women in 1920. She earned a doctorate in political science at Columbia University, leaving an inspiring example for a younger generation of Chinese American men and women. The daughter of a beloved pastor, she led the congregation of the First Chinese Baptist Church for over forty years despite the lack of support from her denomination. Her commitment to education as a means of social advancement continues to the present through the summer youth program led by Deacon Robert Gee, the son of the Deacon Steven Gee, while her mission to the Chinese community is embodied in programs led by the current pastor, Rev. Bayer Lee (Quan 2016, 5). In recent years, the church continues to open her doors for Sunday worship services and Sunday meals; showcases films, concerts and exhibits by Asian Americans; and serves as meeting place for a Christian women’s empowerment group. Like his predecessor, Rev. Lee is a graduate of Columbia University, a Fulbright scholar, fluent in Cantonese and English who values the independence of the Chinese church.  A simple commemorative stone with the words “Memorial” inscribed in Chinese by Dr. Hu Shih still adorns the front entrance. While the original intention was to honor Rev. Lee Towe, it is also a fitting testament to Dr. Mabel Lee. For it was her conviction that Christian faith leads to service that provided a unifying vision of development that applies as much to the world around the corner as it does to distant lands.


1. Like Mabel Lee, Donaldina Cameron at the age of twenty five became superintendent of the Presbyterian Home in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Whereas Lee focused on young immigrant men, Cameron committed herself to rescuing young Chinese immigrant women from indentured servitude. Both Lee and Cameron’s work could technically be considered “domestic missions” because their work, though rooted in American soil, was seen as cross-cultural work from an American missions stand point, and was funded by their respective denomination’s mission societies. See Twelbeck 2012, 135-163.

2. Services were conducted in Cantonese, because the primary group of Chinese residing in the United States during Lee’s lifetime were from Hong Kong and Guanddong Province and spoke Cantonese.

3. Between 1900 and 1904, student enrollment in NYC public schools increased by 132,000. By 1911, at Erasmus, a second phase of construction made space for an additional 1,451 students with much of the increase due to immigration. Accessed October 20, 2016. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus_Hall_High_School

4. On April 11, 1912 in the Portland Hotel, seven Chinese women attended a special luncheon sponsored by the College Women’s Equal Suffrage association in Oregon. Racial lines were suspended for an afternoon while Chinese sat side by side with their American counterparts. Dr. S. K. Chan, a physician and the president of a local suffrage league, gave a brief address, “We Chinese women have much to be thankful for. You sent your missionaries . . . and they told us about the destiny and equality of man . . . But we have taken one step ahead of you. You have brought us the truths of the rights of man and we have put them into practice by granting our women the ballot” (Oregonian 1912, 16). Dr. Chan extolled China as surpassing the United States by granting the franchise to women earlier, apparently assuming that the new constitutional government, established in 1912, would immediately confer the right to vote on women, but China’s daughters waited until 1947 before they could vote. Meanwhile, in November 1912, Oregon’s Equal Suffrage Proclamation was signed. Unfortunately, Dr. Chan, still could not vote, because according to U.S. law her race disqualified her from citizenship. How often race and gender have conspired against human rights.

5. Inflamed by expanding foreign spheres of influence and the extraterritoriality rights of foreigners, a group known as the Righteous Harmonious Fists (“the Boxers”) wanted to re-assert Chinese sovereignty by ridding China of foreign powers. European forces united and responded by bringing 20,000 armed soldiers to squash the “Rebellion” (1901) and exacted an indemnity of 450 million taels of silver—exceeding China’s annual tax revenue. America used a portion of the payment to establish the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship to pay for the tuition of Chinese students who qualified to study in America. Since Lee was still a Chinese citizen, she was able to receive a scholarship for her studies at Barnard.

6. Lee was active in the Chinese Christian Students Association, but she apparently felt confident that her credentials merited recognition across the Chinese student body. Although she lost to T.V. Soong, some believe he may have tampered with the ballots (Tseng 1996, 5).

7. In contrast, the Mount Holyoke model represented a different cross-cultural strategy, where the preeminent goal of female education was to make women better wives, so that their husbands and children could be won over by their godly example. The intent was to make women “useful” (Robert 2005, 110) in their given cultural context and not to introduce English, western clothing, foreign manners, or other potential barriers to the gospel (Robert 2005, 111).

8.The Morningstar Mission was started by the Woman’s American Baptist Mission Society in 1892 and then merged in 1912 with the Methodist Work in Chinatown under the New York City Baptist Mission Society.
The Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities of 1918 records an E.L. Ballard as the Treasurer of the Automatic Record Co., incorporated in Delaware in 1910.


“Chinese Girl for Suffrage: Miss Mabel Lee of Barnard is Speaker at Meeting.” 1915. New York Times (January 30): 4.

Christian China. 1921. “Personal Notes.” Christian China 8, no.1 (Oct.): 89.

Edwards, Louise. 2005. Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in China: Confronting Modernity in Governance. In Women in China: The Republican Period on Historical Perspective, ed. Mechthild Leutner and Nicolar Spakowski, 107-82. Munster: LIT Verlag.

Gee, Steven. 2001. “Highlights of Dr. Mabel Lee’s Life.” First Chinese Baptist Church 75th Anniversary Commemorative Journal, 14-15.

Lee, Mabel. “China’s Submerged Half.” c. 1915. Unpublished Speech. Files in First Chinese Baptist Church (“FCBC”).

________. 1914. “Chinese Patriotism,” Winning Oration Amherst Conference, The Chinese Students Monthly.

________. 1925. Circular Letter to Congregation. July 3, 1925. Files in FCBC.

________. 1929. “Dr. Mabel Lee: On a Visit to China Writes Interesting Letter.” The Metropolitan Baptist 1, no. 1 (Sept.): 3.

________. 1921. The Economic History of China, With Special Reference to Agriculture. New York: Columbia University Press.

________. 1914. “The Meaning of Woman’s Suffrage.” Chinese Student Monthly (May): 526-29.

Metropolitan Baptist Bulletin. 1923. 2, no. 10 (December): 10.

Metropolitan Baptist Bulletin. 1927. 6, no. 1 (January): 3.

Oregonian. 1912. “Chinese Women Dine with White.” Oregonian (April 12): 16. Accessed October 20, 2016. http://centuryofaction.org/index.php/main_site/News_Articles/chinese_women_dine_with_white_part_1_of_3

Quan, Gary. 2016. “My Tribute to Dr. Mabel Lee’s Sunset Legacy.” First Chinese Baptist Church 90th Anniversary Commemorative Journal: 4-6.

Robert, Dana L. 1997. American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

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________. 2002. Unbinding Their Souls: Chinese Protestant Women in Twentieth-Century America. In Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism, ed. Margaret Lamberts and Virginia Lieson Brereton, 136-63. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

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Grace May is the Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at William Carey International University. She received her Th.D in Systematic Theology and Missiology from Boston University School of Theology and her M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a contributing author to  Honoring the Generations ,  The Scandal of the Cross  and  The Global God .

Grace May is the Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at William Carey International University. She received her Th.D in Systematic Theology and Missiology from Boston University School of Theology and her M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a contributing author to Honoring the Generations, The Scandal of the Cross and The Global God.