Margaret “Mom” Chung: the First Female Asian-American Doctor

By Phineas Upham

Margaret Chung was the first American-born Chinese physician in the United States, a designator that did not come easy over time. Margaret’s parents both struggled in working class jobs, her mom actually worked at a brothel, before eventually quitting due to illness. Both parents became invalids when Chung was only ten years old, so she took the lead in caring for her family.

She took jobs driving a horse-drawn carriage and working 12-hour shifts at a Chinese restaurant. She won scholarships and lectured at local colleges and think tanks about the state of China, which gave her enough money to pursue a college education for herself.

She graduated from the University of Southern California’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1916. She did a brief stint in Illinois before transferring to the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital in California. She managed to gain some clientele from the Hollywood elite, which sustained her until she moved to San Francisco in 1922. There, she settled in Chinatown and worked as a staff physician for a local hotel until she was able to afford the costs to open her own practice.

World War II saw Chung become an activist. When Japan attacked China, she became an outspoken critic and rallied to send medical supplies to both China and Pearl Harbor after the attack. She routinely held Sunday dinners for servicemen, including Admiral Chester Nimitz (who is rumored to have mopped her floor and washed dishes, per her house rules, during his visits).

Chung became affectionately known as “Mom” to service members, and she adopted some 1500 different sons during her lifetime. She died in 1959, a celebrated figure of World War II era America.

About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Facebook page.