Episode 21. Dr. Margaret Chung: Certified Boss Mom

What’s the ideal number of kids you would have, if any? Two? Ten? Well how about adopting thousands of grown men as your “sons”. That’s essentially what Dr. Margaret Chung did and it is one of the many reasons we are sharing her story in this episode. Dr. Chung was the first Asian-American female physician in the United States and she grew up during a time not so different from the present, where Asians in America were scapegoated and punished simply for existing. Join us as we learn about Margaret, her rise from a rancher to plastic surgeon to “mother” of thousands of American military men in World War II. This is a story you won’t want to miss!

Feminist Corner:

Some say that Margaret Chung was beyond her time, what time period or generation do you think you’d want to live in/were meant to be in?

How do you feel the model minority myth played into or didn’t play into Margaret’s life story?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

We dove into the life of Dr. Margaret Chung, the first Chinese-American physician to practice in the United States!

1850s in the US:

  • The civil war just ended, and the US is entering that period of reconstruction where it’s trying to build back up the union into United States
  • Our story is in california, where in the 1850s, immigrants from China were migrating to the US for work in the gold mines because this was the time of the CA gold rush
  • Many Chinese workers were also employed in agriculture jobs, factory work, as domestic workers and especially in the garment industry
  • There was strong anti-Chinese sentiment–they were seen as inherently alien, were called “the yellow peril” and experienced a lot of hostility and violence
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 by the US government and banned Chinese immigration to the US until 1943

Margaret was born on October 2, 1889 in Santa Barbara, and was the oldest of 11 children.

  • Margaret wanted to be a medical missionary when she grew up, because she was taught by her church that this was the most noble profession
  • She was also the primary caregiver for her mother when she got sick with Tuberculosis
  • This experience pushed her ultimately to goal of practicing medicine, and she attended the University of Southern California for medical school in 1911
  • In 1916 when she graduated, she was the first American born chinese female doctor.

Margaret was able to move to Chicago for her residency and train under Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen who was training women nurses and doctors in surgery.

  •  In 1918, she moved back to LA and started developing plastic surgery skills while working at a railroad hospital
  • She ended up leaving LA though and moving up to northern california, where in 1922 she decided to start her own practice. 
  • in 1925 she helped establish the first Western Hospital in Chinatown and she led it’s OB/GYN and pediatrics unit

But in 1931, Japan attacked China in WWII and Margaret became involved in the war effort

  •  She began “adopting” military men across the country and called them the “Fair Haired Bastards”
  • Over the 1930s, the group grew to thousands of pilots, submariners, admirals, congressmen and eventually celebrities including actor John Wayne and a young Ronald Reagan!! 
  • She started a new military volunteer org called WAVES which stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services and it was a branch of the navy for women exclusively

By the end of the war, Margaret’s career was coming to an end because she had committed so much to the war effort

  • For the next 14 years she became more frail and could only work a couple of hours a day
  • In 1958 she underwent surgery for ovarian cancer and because she knew she was going to go, she took the time before to get her affairs in order and even plan her funeral, inviting her thousands of adopted sons and many of them did attend. 
  • She died on January 5, in 1959 at the age of 69.


Brockell, G. (2021, March 18). The long, ugly history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/03/18/history-anti-asian-violence-racism/

DeBakcsy, D. (2018, August 2). The Amazing Life Of Dr. Margaret Chung, The First American-Born Chinese Woman Physician and Surgeon. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://womenyoushouldknow.net/dr-margaret-chung-physician-surgeon/

Dr. Margaret “Mom” Chung (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://www.nps.gov/people/dr-margaret-mom-chung.htm

Milestones: 1866–1898 – Office of the Historian. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/chinese-immigration

A Nation Divided: The Political Climate of 1850s America · The Benjamin Hedrick Ordeal: A Portait of Antebellum Politics and Debates Over Slavery · Civil War Era NC. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/exhibits/show/benjamin-hedrick/polticalclimate#:%7E:text=By%20the%201850s%20the%20United,opposed%20the%20institution’s%20westward%20expansion.

Profession, H. C. O. T. L., & Law, E. Y. (2019, March 26). The Model Minority Myth. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://thepractice.law.harvard.edu/article/the-model-minority-myth/

Unladylike2020. (2020, November 23). Margaret Chung –. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://unladylike2020.com/profile/margaret-chung/

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