1889 - 1959
"Women of every nation, every country, should learn medicine, so that they can teach the women of their countries and their races how to care for themselves and their children—how to improve the coming generation."
- Dr. Margaret Chung quote in a 1914 Los Angeles Herald profile
Born in Santa Barbara, California, Dr. Chung was the first known American-born Chinese woman to become a physician. After completing her internship and residency in Chicago and Kankakee, Illinois, she established one of the first Western medical clinics in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1920s. Chung achieved fame during the 1930s and 40s for her patriotic activities on behalf of China and the United States. Known as “Mom Chung,” she “adopted” over a thousand U.S. troops – dubbed the “Fair-Haired Bastards” – who pledged their fealty for her commitment to their well-being. Renowned for her hospitality and generosity, she sent care packages to the troops and hosted weekly Sunday suppers in her modestly-sized home in San Francisco where regular soldiers mingled with the likes of John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Tennessee Williams, Helen Hayes, and Tallulah Bankhead, along with politicians, and the military’s top brass – all bound to each other through their mutual affection for Chung and their common dedication to the Allied Cause. Chung used her considerable war-time celebrity to lobby for the creation of the WAVES – the U.S. women's naval reserve – but was never given public credit for the achievement nor was she permitted to join the WAVES, due to age, race, and suspected lesbianism. Described as a serious, commanding, almost regal person, Chung nevertheless had a bawdy sense of humor. Reinventing herself at will, she routinely flouted convention by adopting both hyper-masculine and Hollywood glamour personas, while also managing to guard her privacy in spite of her intimate relationships with lesbian poetess Elsa Gidlow and entertainer Sophie Tucker. A larger-than-life personality to the end, when Margaret Chung died in 1959 her pallbearers included Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, famed conductor Andre Kostelanetz and San Francisco Mayor George Christopher. Few civilian patriots have ever again achieved the level of celebrity and influence that was accorded to Dr. Margaret Chung.
Sexual Orientation Lesbian
Gender Identity Cisgender
Ethnicity Asian/Pacific Rim
Nations Affiliated United States
Era/Epoch World War II (1939-1945)
Field(s) of Contribution
Civics, Government, Politics, & Law
STEM & Medicine
Commemorations & Honors
Three Flying Fortresses Named "Mama Chung" During World War II
San Francisco Municipal Railway's Central Subway Tunnel Boring Machine Named "Mom Chung" (2013)