Mabel Lee was born in 1896 in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. She was a suffragist and Baptist church leader. The daughter of a prominent minister, she moved to New York City’s Chinatown in 1904.
In May 1912, the 16-year-old Lee rode on horseback through New York City as part of a huge suffrage parade. She led a group of Chinese and Chinese American suffragist marchers. She started studying at Barnard College the same year, continuing her activism there. She lectured and wrote articles for student journals to promote women’s suffrage, especially within the Chinese American community. Though New York legalized women’s suffrage in 1917, Lee herself was not allowed to vote.This was because of the extremely racist 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited the number of immigrants allowed to come to the US from China and severely restricted the rights of Chinese people already living in the US. Because of this unjust act, Lee was not able to become a legal citizen of the United States and could not vote.
In 1921, Lee became the first Chinese woman to receive a PhD from Columbia University. After her father died in 1924, she took over his Baptist ministry in Chinatown, which she led for another four decades, and which still exists today. She died in 1966 around age 70.
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