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Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards

Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 282
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppz6k
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  • Book Info
    Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards
    Book Description:

    During World War II, Mom Chung's wastheplace to be in San Francisco. Soldiers, movie stars, and politicians gathered at her home to socialize, to show their dedication to the Allied cause, and to express their affection for Dr. Margaret Chung (1889-1959). The first known American-born Chinese female physician, Chung established one of the first Western medical clinics in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1920s. She also became a prominent celebrity and behind-the-scenes political broker during World War II. Chung gained national fame when she began "adopting" thousands of soldiers, sailors, and flyboys, including Ronald Reagan, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. A pioneer in both professional and political realms, Chung experimented in her personal life as well. She adopted masculine dress and had romantic relationships with other women, such as writer Elsa Gidlow and entertainer Sophie Tucker. This is the first biography to explore Margaret Chung's remarkable and complex life. It brings alive the bohemian and queer social milieus of Hollywood and San Francisco as well as the wartime celebrity community Chung cultivated. Her life affords a rare glimpse into the possibilities of traversing racial, gender, and sexual boundaries of American society from the late Victorian era through the early Cold War period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93892-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    During World War II, Mom Chung’s wastheplace to be in San Francisco. Soldiers preparing for departure to the Pacific arena of war or on leave from their duties went to eat good comfort food there. They consumed vast quantities of BBQ ribs, red beans, and chocolate cake, making up for the dreariness of military fare. They swapped stories with each other over drinks at the bar. They also caught glimpses of and actually talked with some of the foremost celebrities of their time: John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Tennessee Williams, Helen Hayes, Sophie Tucker, Tallulah Bankhead, and many others....

  4. PART ONE Religion and Medicine

    • CHAPTER 1 “The Medical Lady Missionary”
      (pp. 9-22)

      Margaret Chung was born into a family, a country, and an era profoundly influenced by Christianity. Her mother, Ah Yane, and her father, Chung Wong, emigrated separately from China to the United States in the mid-1870s. In California, both converted under the influence of Presbyterian missionaries. The assistance offered by these white and mostly female reformers enabled Ah Yane and Chung Wong to survive and adapt in a new country. Furthermore, the Christian faith laid the foundation for their daughter’s aspiration to become a medical missionary among the Chinese people.

      Margaret Chung’s chosen vocation reveals the influence of the largest...

    • CHAPTER 2 Living Their Religion
      (pp. 23-37)

      Margaret Chung’s parents began their marriage with much promise. As Christians and as members of the merchant class, they would serve as beacons both to fellow Chinese in this country and to those many white Americans who viewed Chinese as unassimilable. Nevertheless, during their twenty-six-year marriage, they faced racism, poverty, and ill health. Margaret was born in the small town of Santa Barbara in 1889 , but her family, ever searching for the means of survival, relocated to sparsely populated Ventura County in 1899 and then to Los Angeles shortly after the turn of the century. Their precarious existence reflected...

    • CHAPTER 3 Where Womanhood and Childhood Meet
      (pp. 38-52)

      In the fall of 1907 , Margaret enrolled in the Preparatory Academy, which was affiliated with the University of Southern California (USC). Reflecting the recurring delays to her education, she was nearly eighteen years old when she entered ninth grade. Her desire to become a medical missionary most likely influenced her academic plans. Established by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881, USC took its religious charge seriously. The school expected all students to attend daily chapel exercises and regular church services. Those who intended to pursue a religious profession or who were children of ministers received reductions in their tuition.¹...

  5. PART TWO A Search for Belonging

    • CHAPTER 4 “A Noble Profession”
      (pp. 55-70)

      Margaret Chung had mixed emotions on commencement day in June of 1916 . At twenty-six, she had succeeded in becoming a doctor. However, the denial of her request to serve as a medical missionary in China left her without a clear vocation. Over the next fifteen years, Chung would develop expertise in several medical specializations and cultivate varied clienteles in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Her eclectic practice and geographic mobility reflected her search for a professional and personal sense of belonging.

      Chung initially faced limited career prospects. Like many medical school graduates, she felt inadequately prepared for an...

    • CHAPTER 5 “The Beginning of a New Era”
      (pp. 71-85)

      Chung left Chicago during the dreary winter season and returned to a land of sunshine, eager to start a new life. In February 1919, she applied for a license to practice medicine in the state of California. Age twenty-nine at the time and listed as five and a half feet, she appeared youthful and attractive in the accompanying photograph. Her eyes look straight into the camera, and her expression conveys a sense of seriousness. As in her medical school pictures, she pulled her hair back, accentuating the roundness of her face. She also wore androgynous clothing—a white blouse and...

    • CHAPTER 6 “The Ministering Angel of Chinatown”
      (pp. 86-102)

      In the early 1920s, Margaret Chung accepted the invitation of two Hollywood patients to accompany them on a vacation to San Francisco. She had just performed surgery on the manager of the United Artists studio and his wife, and agreed to help them recuperate. During the trip, she “fell in love with San Francisco at once.”¹ The city, located on a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the bay, held a distinctive charm. Unlike the relatively flat, expansive terrain of Los Angeles, San Francisco was a compact city, distinguished by over forty hilltops, almost all of them with impressive...

    • CHAPTER 7 A Sister Lesbian?
      (pp. 103-116)

      By the late 1920s, Margaret Chung had achieved a degree of professional stability and social status in San Francisco. Her entry in the 1928–1929 edition ofWho’s Who in Californiaindicates that she had a private practice in Chinatown and served on the executive staff at the Chinese Hospital. In addition, she continued as a resident surgeon at the Hotel Wiltshire. Reflecting her class status and ability to cross racial boundaries, Chung participated in “mainstream” women’s professional and civic organizations, such as the San Francisco Medical Women’s Club and the San Francisco Women’s City Club.¹ Like other entries in...

  6. PART THREE Orientalized Motherhood

    • CHAPTER 8 Becoming Mom Chung
      (pp. 119-135)

      For Margaret Chung, 1931 was a momentous year. Then in her early forties, she regarded her life accomplishments with mixed feelings. After nearly a decade in San Francisco, she still had not attained a sense of fulfillment. Chung claims that she “had been too busy in a struggle for a mere existence to laugh or to have fun.”¹ She actually engaged in a relatively active social life. However, her comment reflects a lack of satisfaction, perhaps regarding her status in Chinatown and her personal life. Despite her goal of serving her ancestral people, Chung increasingly focused her professional and personal...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 9 A Model Family at War
      (pp. 136-154)

      The nation’s official entry into World War II fundamentally changed people’s lives. Nearly 16.5 million citizens and residents, more than 10 percent of the American population, left their homes and families to serve in the armed forces. Three to four hundred thousand never returned and seven hundred thousand more sustained injuries. The need for servicemen provided unique opportunities for those traditionally marginalized by American society. Nonwhite men, including Japanese Americans whose families remained in internment camps, tended to enlist in greater proportions, because military service offered benefits and recognition reserved for honored members of the American citizenry.¹ Women of all...

    • CHAPTER 10 Creating WAVES
      (pp. 155-169)

      During the 1930s and early 1940s, Chung achieved recognition as a symbol of the expanding American and Allied family. Her fame, however, stemmed from her dedication to supporting the perceived central actors in the U.S. polity. As a mother, she nurtured and inspired her children’s wartime achievements. As a person of Chinese ancestry, she encouraged white Americans to develop interracial and international sympathies. Not content with her derivative status, Chung aspired to offer direct service to the American nation. In March 1942 , a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she applied to join the U.S. Navy.

      Chung...

    • CHAPTER 11 “I’ll Wait on You Forever”
      (pp. 170-184)

      During Margaret Chung’s reign as a celebrity surrogate mother, her lack of romantic involvement appeared “natural” in the eyes of her friends and family. As a middle-aged single professional woman dedicated to the war cause, her asexuality seemed only fitting. Despite her status as an unmarried woman, Chung publicly proclaimed her allegiance to existing gender norms. She believed that “every woman wants a home and children.”¹ Since she described herself as not being “fortunate enough” to attain these goals, Chung did the next best thing. She set out to satisfy these presumably innate female desires through the creation of an...

  7. EPILOGUE: “There Will Never Be Another Mom Chung”
    (pp. 185-196)

    On 14 August 1945, at 4 P.M. Pacific time, Chung heard of Japan’s surrender over the radio. In the midst of composing a letter to son number 600, Admiral William Halsey Jr., the commander of naval forces in the South Pacific, she interrupted her train of thought to write, “I have just dropped to my knees in thanksgiving to God and to you.”¹ Having dedicated fourteen years of her life to the war cause, Chung must have found it fitting that one of her adopted sons, William Sterling Parsons, had served as bomb commander on the Enola Gay; involved in...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 197-202)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 203-250)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-274)
  11. Index
    (pp. 275-282)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)