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Guide to the Margaret Chung Papers, 1880-1958 (bulk 1942-1944)
AAS ARC 2000/3  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Margaret Chung Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1880-1958 (bulk 1942-1944
    Collection number: AAS ARC 2000/3
    Creator: Chung, Margaret
    Extent: 7 boxes 1 oversize folder 1 volume
    Repository: University of California, Berkeley. The Ethnic Studies Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-2360
    Abstract: Contains writings and personal papers, including biographies, photographs and a scrapbook of newsclippings, relating to Margaret Chung and her military "sons" spanning the years from 1933 to 1958. The bulk of the collection, dating from 1942 to 1944 consists of correspondence with her "sons" as well as photographs, military printed materials, and scrapbooks.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Ethnic Studies Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the appropriate curator. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Ethnic Studies Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Margaret Chung Papers, AAS ARC 2000/3, The Ethnic Studies Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Acquisition Information

    The Margaret Chung papers were given to the Ethnic Studies Library by Mollie Leong with the Charles Leong papers on October 5, 1984.


    Margaret Chung was born in 1890 in Santa Barbara, California. Her parents were both native-born Chinese who, when they were very young, came to America with their parents. They were devout Christians who insisted their children practice daily prayers and attend church twice every Sunday. Margaret Chung grew up on a 24,000-acre ranch in Ventura County where her father was the foreman. As a child, she explored every aspect of the outdoor life on the ranch with her inquisitive mind and endless energy, often riding horseback along with the ranch hands to mend fences and herd cattle. She was the eldest of eleven children and played a major role in the upbringing of her brothers and sisters.
    With sheer determination, Chung pursued her ambition in the medical field. She won a scholarship to college by selling a large number of subscriptions for the Los Angeles Times, and graduated from the University of Southern California, College of Physicians and Surgeons. Her first choice was to serve as a medical missionary, but she was barred because of her Chinese nationality. Chung interned at hospitals in Los Angeles and Chicago and then became staff resident at the State Hospital for the Insane in Kankakee, Illinois, where a well-known Chicago criminologist recognized her brilliance and compassionate understanding of mental disorders. With him, she established Chicago's first juvenile psychopathic institute. At 26 years of age, Chung was appointed criminologist for the State of Illinois, but she disliked the nature of this position because life or death decisions depended on a criminal's sanity or insanity. She preferred to cure people and to concentrate on surgical cases.
    At this time her father died unexpectedly, leaving her to struggle with the responsibility of raising her six young siblings. Upon returning to California, Chung was hired as staff surgeon at the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital in Los Angeles and became experienced with industrial accident cases which led to her specialization in plastic surgery. She built up a private practice that included many Hollywood celebrities and film industry executives.
    After Chung's first visit to San Francisco, California in 1923, she was immediately attracted to Chinatown and the possibility of serving the Chinese people. She became not only the first American doctor in Chinatown, but also the first woman to practice modern medicine in Chinatown. Through perseverance, Chung was able to prove her medical skills and she eventually gained the confidence of the Chinese people who previously solely depended on herbal doctors.
    When the Japanese attacked China in 1931, Chung wanted to give her medical services to China, but authorities felt she would better serve its cause by her work in the United States. At that time, seven flyers approached the famous Chinese-American physician to offer their services to China, knowing Chung's deep interests in both aviation and China. She, in turn, advised them to stay in America where they would also be needed. The flyers formed a club with Chung in which they became "adopted sons" and she became their "Mom." During World War II, the club grew to thousands of military men and women, including some of the highest ranking officers. She received large volumes of correspondence from them and she reciprocated with letters of enthusiastic support and with thoughtful gifts. Chung also supported women during World War II through her persistence in the creation of the Women's U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES). She served tirelessly in the war effort and in giving aid to China through her medical practice, through the lecture circuit, and through countless other activities. In 1945, Catholic Bishop Paul Yu-Pin presented Chung with the "People's Medal" of the Chinese government.
    Throughout her life, Chung was surrounded by numerous admirers from all walks of life. She felt comfortable on opening night at a performance in a white ermine coat with a caged parakeet dangling from her wrist or at home in a gingham apron cooking spare-ribs by the bushelful for her "adopted sons" and their families or convincing Chinese patients of the importance of milk for its high calcium content. She was a humanitarian and patriot and proud to be a symbol of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.
    Margaret Chung died at the age of sixty-nine after a long illness.

    Scope Content

    The Margaret Chung Papers contain writings and personal papers, including biographies, photographs and a scrapbook of newsclippings relating to Margaret Chung and her military "sons" spanning the years form 1933 to 1958. The bulk of the collection, dating from 1942 to 1944 consists of correspondence with her "sons" as well as photographs, military printed materials, and scrapbooks.
    Chung's handwritten autobiographical manuscript and other biographical materials provide an insight into her humble beginnings and her determination to serve humanity through her medical practice in San Francisco's Chinatown, where her patients were not confined to the Chinese community, but included people from all around the country. The personal papers also reflect her many friendships with interesting people ranging from Madame Chiang Kai-shek to Tallulah Bankhead and Sophie Tucker. Chung made many friends in the motion picture industry while on the medical staff in a Los Angeles hospital where she specialized in industrial accident cases and plastic surgery.
    Beyond medicine, she had two passions: aviation and China. Although she never visited China, she was deeply devoted to the land of her parents' birth. When the Japanese attacked China, Chung contributed to China aid through lectures, radio programs, writings and related activities. The collection shows Chung's incredible support during World War II for military men, especially pilots whom she "adopted" as her "sons." Notable in World War II history was Chung's recruitment of numerous aviators who became known as the "Flying Tigers" under the command of General Claire Chennault, one of Chung's "adopted sons." Also significant was her instrumental role in getting a Congressional bill introduced and passed through the help of "adopted son #447," Brigadier General Melvin Maas, Senator from Minnesota. It was the bill creating the Women's Naval Reserve (WAVES) and making it possible for women to join the military service.
    The name "Mom" Chung was revered by flyers all over the world. In 1931, a club of "adopted sons" took form when seven top flight American aviators came to consult with her concerning China. This group grew to thousands and included aviators (the "Fair-Haired Bastards"), submarine men (the "Golden Dolphins"), and those who neither flew nor went to sea (the "Kiwis"). The majority of the collection conveys Chung's inexhaustible support and her intense patriotism through the hundreds of letters from her "adopted sons" and their devotion to her. Chung presented each "son" with a small carved jade Buddha and personally wrapped and sent over four thousand Christmas gifts to her "sons" overseas. Known as a great cook, she often invited these military men and their families as well as Hollywood celebrities for dinners at her home in San Francisco. During 1943 to 1945, Chung also frequented restaurants and nightclubs, particularly the Copacabana, Bal Tabarin, and Forbidden City, where photographs were taken as she was surrounded by her "sons," their families and friends. Chung's home became a museum of war memorabilia which even included parts of downed airplanes. The collection contains military publications and materials, numerous photographs, letters, telegrams, invitations, announcements, and stories sent to her. These "sons" came from diverse backgrounds and included those awarded with the military's highest honors and other prominent figures who supported the war effort. They included Senator Albert B. Chandler, Fleet Admiral C.W. Nimitz, Brigadier General Russell Randall, Admiral W.F. Halsey as well as Andre Kostelanetz, the famed conductor.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Tucker, Sophie, 1884-1966.
    United States. Naval Reserve. Women's Reserve.
    Chinese American women--California--San Francisco.
    Physicians--California--San Francisco.
    Soldiers--United States--Correspondence.
    World War, 1939-1945--Anecdotes.
    Chinese Americans--Social life and customs.
    World War, 1939-1945--Civilian relief--United States.
    World War, 1939-1945--War work--California--San Francisco.
    Chiang, May-ling Soong, 1897-.