Tape v. Hurley

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Tape v. Hurley
Tape family.jpg
Joseph, Emily, Mamie, Frank, and Mary Tape
Court California Supreme Court
Full case name Mamie Tape, an Infant, by her Guardian ad Litem, Joseph Tape v. Jennie M.A. Hurley, et al
Decided March 1885
Citation(s) 66 Cal. 473 (1885)
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Robert F. Morrison, John Sharpstein, James D. Thornton, Milton H. Myrick, Samuel B. McKee, Elisha W. McKinstry, Erskine M. Ross
Case opinions
Decision by Sharpstein
Concurrence Morrison, Thornton, Myrick, McKee, McKinstry, Ross

Tape v. Hurley, 66 Cal. 473 (1885) was a landmark court case in the California Supreme Court in which the Court found the exclusion of a Chinese American student from public school based on her ancestry unlawful.


Mamie Tape was a Chinese American immigrant born in San Francisco. Her parents, Joseph Tape (1852–1935), and Mary McGladery Tape (1857–1934), were both immigrants from China. Joseph Tape was a businessman and an interpreter for the Chinese consulate, while Mary Tape was an amateur photographer and artist.


In 1884, Mamie, then eight years old, was denied admission to the Spring Valley School, because of her Chinese ancestry. Her parents sued the San Francisco Board of Education. They argued that the school board's decision was a violation of the California Political Code, which stated:

"Every school, unless otherwise provided by law, must be open for the admission of all children between six and twenty-one years of age residing in the district; and the board of trustees, or city board of education, have power to admit adults and children not residing in the district, whenever good reasons exist therefor. Trustees shall have the power to exclude children of filthy or vicious habits, or children suffering from contagious or infectious diseases."

In response, the Tape family provided medical documents proving that Mamie Tape had a clean bill of health, the school board did not alter their argument. On January 9, 1885, Superior Court Justice McGuire handed down the decision in favor of the Tapes. On appeal, the California Supreme Court upheld the decision.

He wrote that "To deny a child, born of Chinese parents in this state, entrance to the public schools would be a violation of the law of the state and the Constitution of the United States."

In response to the ruling, Mary Tape sent an incensed letter to the San Francisco school board expressing her outrage:

“May you Mr. Moulder, never be persecuted like the way you have persecuted little Mamie Tape. is it a disgrace to be Born a Chinese? Didn’t God make us all!!! What right! Have you to bar my children out of the school because she is a chinese Descend. Mamie Tape will never attend any of the Chinese schools of your making! Never!!! I will let the world see sir What justice there is When it is govern by the Race prejudice men!!!"[1]


After the decision, the San Francisco school board lobbied for a separate school system for Chinese and other "Mongolian" children. A bill passed through the California state legislature giving the board the authority to establish the Oriental Public School in San Francisco. Tape v. Hurley is both temporally and substantively similar to the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson, which in 1896 justified the legality of segregated schools on the premise of "separate but equal." However, the cases differ in the fact that African-American children were regarded as citizens and Chinese-American children as foreigners.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Iris., Chang, (2004) [2003]. The Chinese in America : a narrative history. New York: Penguin. ISBN 9780142004173. OCLC 55136302. 
  2. ^ Chinese Americans and the politics of race and culture. Lai, H. Mark,, Chan, Sucheng,, Hsu, Madeline Yuan-yin,. Philadelphia. ISBN 9781592137541. OCLC 879551040. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kuo, Joyce (1998). "Excluded, Segregated and Forgotten: A Historical View of the Discrimination of Chinese Americans in Public Schools". Asian American Law Journal. 5: 181. ISSN 1939-8417. 
  • Hsu, M. Y. & Chan, S.(2008). Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from Project MUSE database.

External links[edit]