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Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, PhD, 1896-1966
After learning English at a missionary school in Guangzhou, China and winning a scholarship, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee immigrated to the United States in 1900 to join her father, a missionary. Understanding how the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) prevented Chinese immigrants from voting and becoming citizens, Lee became involved in women’s suffrage at a young age. In 1912 at age 16, Mabel received notoriety for leading a suffrage parade of 10,000 on horseback in New York City. She attended Barnard College where she majored in history and philosophy. She continued to write about suffrage and encouraged all Chinese women to gain an education and participate in civic activities. In 1921 after attending Columbia University, Lee became the first Chinese woman to be awarded a PhD in economics. Dr. Lee had planned a return to China to open a girls’ school but after her father’s death, she decided to stay in order to continue in his position as director of New York City’s Chinese Baptist Church. She founded the Chinese Christian Center, offering a kindergarten, health care, and English classes for the community. Dr. Lee never married, dedicating her life to the betterment of her community.