Mabel Ping-Hua Lee


Mabel Ping-Hua Lee


IHO Year of the Rat, a fearless teenager on a horse. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was only 16 when she led New York City’s 1912 suffrage parade on horseback. She started college @Barnard that fall. She was a media magnet, profiled in the Tribune a month before the parade.

The article reassures that “Miss Lee believes that woman’s place is in the home, and that her education should be primarily for the satisfaction of her husband.” In 1921 Mabel Lee got a PhD in economics from Columbia.

Throughout college she was active in the suffrage movement and the Chinese Students Association. She published feminist essays in The Chinese Students’ Monthly.

In her own words: “[Woman suffrage] is nothing more than a wider application of our ideas of justice and equality.

"We all believe in the idea of democracy; woman suffrage or the feminist movement (of which woman suffrage is a fourth part) is the application of democracy to women.”

New York women won the vote in 1917, but not Mabel Lee. The Chinese Exclusion Act barred all Chinese immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens - including Mabel, who arrived in the US at age 9. The Act was in force from 1882-1943. Mabel fought for a ballot she knew she couldn’t access.

She lived until 1966. We don’t know if she ever voted. Soon after she finished her PhD, her father, a prominent Baptist minister, died suddenly. Dr. Lee took over his church and spent the rest of her life as a community leader in NYC’s Chinatown. She did not marry.

She lived at 53 Bayard Street in a tenement that still stands. I don’t think there’s a plaque - I’ll check - but a Chinatown Post Office was renamed in her honor in 2018. @tim_tseng has done the most research on her life, and written several articles.

I am so, so sad to learn as I wrote this post that the priceless archives of the Museum of Chinese in America have been destroyed by fire. @mocanyc The museum itself is unharmed, but the loss of documents and artifacts is massive. 


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “Mabel Ping-Hua Lee,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 22, 2024,

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