Margaret Chung

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Margaret Jessie Chung
Margaret "Mom" Chung in 1914
Margaret "Mom" Chung in 1914
Born (1889-10-02)October 2, 1889
Died January 5, 1959(1959-01-05) (aged 69)
Other names "Mom" Chung
Occupation surgeon, philanthropist
Years active 1916-195x?
Known for first Chinese-American female physician; "adopting" 1,500+ servicemen in World War II; helping to found the WAVES
Chinese name
Chinese 張瑪珠

Margaret Jessie Chung (Chinese: 張瑪珠, (1889-10-02)October 2, 1889 – (1959-01-05)January 5, 1959), born in Santa Barbara, California, was the first known American-born Chinese female physician. After graduating from the University of Southern California Medical School[1] in 1916 and completing her internship and residency in Illinois, she established one of the first Western medical clinics in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 1920s.

Early life

Chung was born in Santa Barbara, the eldest of eleven children.[2][3] Her father was the foreman of the Rancho Guadalasca in Ventura County, but the family moved to Los Angeles by 1902.[2] Chung's parents became sick, and she supported the family and helped to raise her younger siblings from when she was ten.[4]

In 1906, Chung was noted in the Los Angeles Herald for a poem she wrote, entitled "Missionary Giving", and delivered at the eighteenth anniversary of the Los Angeles Congregational Chinese mission.[5] She would write and deliver a paper entitled "Comparisons of Chinese and American Costumes" at the first anniversary of the Pasadena Congregational mission in 1907.[6] By that fall, Chung had graduated from the eighth grade at the Seventh Street School[7] and enrolled in the preparatory school at USC, being hailed as a "bright particular star" of the women's gymnasium class.[8] In 1910, Chung won second place in a speech contest.[9]

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.

— Margaret Chung, Los Angeles Herald profile, 1914[10]

Chung won a Los Angeles Times scholarship to study at USC by selling newspaper subscriptions, and worked her way through college as a waitress, a seller of surgical instruments, and by winning cash prizes in several speech contests.[2] She enrolled in the medical school in 1911, according to a 1914 profile that noted her belief that she was "the first Chinese girl to enter a medical school in this state."[10]

Professional career

Dr. Chung with a Lockheed P-38 Lightning model and photos of some of her recruits

After graduating with a medical degree in 1916, she was initially denied positions as either a medical missionary to China[11][12] or an internship and settled for work as a surgical nurse in Los Angeles, at the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital.[2] After several months, she left for Chicago, interning at the Mary Thompson Women's and Children's Hospital before serving her residency at the nearby Kankakee State Hospital.[2][13] Chung would serve as the resident assistant in psychiatry for the first Juvenile Psychopathic Institute of the State of Illinois at the Cook County Hospital in 1917;[14] she was later appointed state criminologist for Illinois.[12] After two years in Illinois, Chung resigned from her position with Cook County in November 1918[15] and returned to Los Angeles following her father's death, accepting a position as a surgeon at Santa Fe Railroad Hospital,[2][16] where she would go on to treat celebrities, including removing Mary Pickford's tonsils.[4]

Chung moved to San Francisco's Chinatown in 1922,[4] where she treated the local Chinese American population as well as celebrities such as Sophie Tucker, Helen Hayes, and Tallulah Bankhead.[2] She also treated seven Navy reserve pilots during this time; part of her care was making them meals, and they reportedly soon began calling themselves "Mom Chung's Fair-Haired Bastard Sons" as a tribute to her.[2] An alternative origin story for the "Mom Chung" nickname is that after eight pilots came to her in 1932, volunteering their services for China against Japan, she turned them down and fed them instead because "they looked starved". The pilots "ate everything she gave them, except eggs" because when they were destitute, the only vendor who would lend the pilots food on credit was an egg farmer.[17] Prior to the United States entry into World War II, Chung would give her "adopted son" pilots a jade Buddha to wear around their necks,[18] which would become a token by which the pilots would recognize each other throughout the world.[2] Non-aviation naval officers "adopted" by Chung were called "Golden Dolphins."[2]

When Japan invaded China in 1937, Chung volunteered as a front-line surgeon,[3][19] but she was secretly assigned instead to recruit pilots for the 1st American Volunteer Group, better known as the "Flying Tigers."[2] During the war, Chung would serve up to 175 people at Thanksgiving at her house and wrapped and addressed 4,000 gifts at Christmas.[20] Her houseguests included high ranking officers and US senators and congressmen; leaning on these connections, she helped establish the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service although she was not permitted to join them, as the government suspected that she was gay.[4] Mom Chung adopted the entire VF-2 squadron, nicknamed "The Rippers" for their logo, which showed a Chinese dragon ripping a flag.[21] VF-2 was assigned to USS Enterprise (CV-6)[22] and would set an American record by shooting down 67 Japanese planes in a single day during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot in June 1944.[21]

In 1947, 90% of Chung's medical patients were white.[23] She retired from medical practice within ten years after the end of World War II, and her "adopted sons" purchased a house for her in Marin County.[2]


Signing the TBM "Mom Chung" on May 30, 2013

Chung died of cancer in January 1959 at Franklin Hospital in San Francisco.[20][17] Among her pallbearers was Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, one of her "Golden Dolphins."[2]

Personal relationships

A pioneer in both professional and political realms, Chung led an unconventional personal life. As the only woman in her class,[2] she adopted masculine dress and called herself "Mike," but after having established a professional practice she reverted to conventional dress and her female name.

Based on personal correspondence, she had close and apparently intense relationships with at least two other women,[24] the writer Elsa Gidlow and entertainer Sophie Tucker, that some writers have speculated were romantic.[11] Although she was briefly engaged, she never did marry.

An advocate of strong Sino-American relations, Chung was a neighbor, friend and confidante of travel writer Richard Halliburton (1900–1939),[25] who died in an attempt to sail the junk Sea Dragon, as a symbol of the bond of East and West, from Hong Kong to the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Military "sons"

Some of the notable "sons" of "Mom" Chung included:[12][26]


Chung reportedly served as inspiration for the character of Dr. Mary Ling in the 1939 film King of Chinatown, portrayed by Anna May Wong.[2]

At least three Flying Fortresses were named "Mama Chung" in her honor by her "adopted" sons during World War II.[27]

Chung was commemorated with a plaque in the Legacy Walk project on October 11, 2012,[28] an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[29]

A tunnel boring machine for the San Francisco Municipal Railway's Central Subway was named "Mom Chung" on March 7, 2013.[30]


  1. ^ "Mom Chung". Bamboo Productions. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Rasmussen, Cecilia (24 June 2001). "Chinese American Was 'Mom' to 1,000 Servicemen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b McMenamin, William (23 August 1937). "Chinese Woman Physician Seeks War Zone Service". San Bernardino Sun. United Press. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d "Doctor Margaret "Mom" Chung". West Adams Heritage. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  5. ^ "Chinese assist in exercises". Los Angeles Herald. 5 March 1906. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  6. ^ "Chinese celebrate first anniversary". Los Angeles Herald. 8 May 1907. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Graduates from public schools". Los Angeles Herald. 8 February 1907. Retrieved 10 March 2017. [...] essay, "Comparison of American and Chinese Habits and Customs," Margaret Chung [...] Those to be graduated are: Margaret Chung, Berta Miller, Josephine Sayers, Harold Gaston, Glenn Smith, Clarence Wilson.
  8. ^ "Margaret Chung, Edith Romig and Lillian Pressman". Los Angeles Herald. 24 November 1907. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  9. ^ "Chinese girl secures second prize in debate". Los Angeles Herald. 5 March 1910. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Chinese girl here studying medicine". Los Angeles Herald. 14 October 1914. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun (2005). Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520938922. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  12. ^ a b c Morganti, Mary; Otani, Janice; Peterson, Erin (September 2000). "Guide to the Margaret Chung Papers (AAS ARC 2000/3)" (PDF). Online Archive of California. University of California at Berkeley, Ethnic Studies Library. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  13. ^ "Dr. Chung, 69, known as 'mom' to vets, dies". Chicago Tribune. 6 January 1959. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  14. ^ Adler, Herman M. (31 March 1918). "The Juvenile Psychopathic Institute and the work of the Division of the Criminologist". The Institution Quarterly. Department of Public Welfare, State of Illinois. IX (1): 5–13. Retrieved 16 March 2017. Dr. Margaret J. Chung, a graduate of the University of Southern California Medical School, having taken Dr. Singer's course for assistant physicians at Kankakee, and having passed the civil service examination, has been appointed resident assistant in psychiatry, the Board of County Commissioners of Cook County having granted maintenance for one resident.
  15. ^ White, Leonard D. (March 1923). "The Status of Scientific Research in Illinois by State Agencies Other than the University of Illinois". Bulletin of the National Research Council. The National Research Council of The National Academy of Sciences. 5 (29): 67. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Mary Thompson Hospital Bulletin". The Woman's Medical Journal. XXIX (6): 126. June 1919. Retrieved 16 March 2017. Dr. Margaret Chung, who recently gave up the position of assistant psychiatrist to the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute at Chicago in order to go to France, is now in Los Angeles doing work with the Santa Fe Railway.
  17. ^ a b "Dr. 'Mom' Chung death grieved by flyers". Coronado Journal. 15 January 1959. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Dr. Margaret Chung". Desert Sun. 7 November 1947. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  19. ^ "Sino-Japanese War "Spreads" to the West Coast". Madera Tribune. 24 August 1937. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b Miller, Johnny (4 January 2009). "Margaret Chung, a one-woman USO in WWII". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  21. ^ a b "Fliers of Mom Chung Return". Madera Tribune. 4 October 1944. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  22. ^ "The Third Fighting Two". VFA-2. United States Navy. 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  23. ^ Gunther, John (1947). Inside U.S.A. New York, London: Harper & Brothers. p. 46.
  24. ^ "Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History in America". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  25. ^ Max, Gerry (2007). Horizon Chasers: The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-7864-2671-3. Retrieved 10 March 2017. At the time [Chung] lived at the top of Telegraph Hill, at 1407 Montgomery Street, which offered matchless views of both the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. Halliburton either lived briefly in the same building or received mail through Dr. Chung.
  26. ^ "Margaret Chung papers, 1933–1958 (bulk 1942–1944), AAS ARC 2000/3". Online Archive of California. University of California at Berkeley, Ethnic Studies Library. 1933. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  27. ^ "Dr. Margaret Chung, San Francisco physician, is called "Mother of Aviators"". Madera Tribune. 22 July 1943. Retrieved 10 March 2017. Some of her boys named a Flying Fortress "Mama Chung III," "Mama Chung I" and "Mama Chung II" having been shot down during bombing raids.
  28. ^ Salvo, Victor. "Margaret Chung Plaque Image". The Legacy Project. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  29. ^ Salvo, Victor. "2012 INDUCTEES". The Legacy Project. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  30. ^ "Introducing Big Alma and Mom Chung, the Central Subway's tunnel boring machines". Central Subway (blog) (Press release). San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency. 7 March 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2017.


  • Harris, Gloria G.; Cohen, Hannah S. (2012). "6. Doctors and Dentists—Margaret "Mom" Chung: First Chinese American Physician in California". Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press. ISBN 978-1-61423-621-4. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  • Max, Gerry (2007). Horizon Chasers: The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 129, 178, and 191. ISBN 978-0-7864-2671-3. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  • Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun (2005). Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520938922. Retrieved 10 March 2017.

External links

  • Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun (2005). "The Chung Family Album". The Ohio State University. Archived from the original on 6 March 2005. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  • "Celebrities and Notables View Lily Pons Home at Housewarming". Desert Sun. 13 January 1955. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  • Crawford, Hildy (13 January 1955). "Fabulous Jam Session is Climax of Housewarming". Desert Sun. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  • "Arriving at Palm Springs Airport". Desert Sun. 28 January 1958. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  • "Mom Chung Visiting In Village". Desert Sun. 28 January 1958. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
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