Tye Leung Schulze

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Tye Leung Schulze
Born Tye Leung
San Francisco, California, United States
Died 1972
Nationality American
Occupation Interpreter
Known for First Chinese American woman to cast a ballot in a primary election.

Tye Leung Schulze became the first Chinese American woman to vote when she cast a ballot in San Francisco on May 19, 1912. The San Francisco Call stated that she was "the first Chinese woman in the history of the world to exercise the electoral franchise." Schulze was also the first Chinese woman hired to work at Angel Island.[1] She is a designated Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.[2]

Early life[edit]

Tye Leung was born in San Francisco, California in 1887. She was one of eight children and her father was a Chinese cobbler while her mother ran a boarding house. As a teenager she was placed in an arranged marriage to a man in Butte, Montana. At 14 she was saved from the arranged marriage by Donaldina Cameron of the Presbyterian Mission Home. At the Mission she learned to speak English, studied Christianity, and helped Cameron rescue Chinese slaves by acting as an interpreter.[3]

Back in the Bay Area[edit]

Leung was the first Chinese American to pass the civil service examinations[4] and she was hired to work as an assistant to the matron at the Angel Island Immigration Station. There she would work with Chinese immigrants who were detained for physical examinations and interrogation upon their arrival.

In 1912 Leung was the first Chinese woman to vote in a primary election.[3] After voting the San Francisco Examiner called the vote "the last word in the modern movement for the complete enfranchisement of women...It was the latest achievement in the great American work of amalgamating and lifting up all the races of the earth."[4]

She repeatedly defied the limitations imposed on her, transcending barriers, achieving a self-created life of honor, dignity, and service. No national organization or major legislation bears her name. Her legacy is one of determined belief in human worth, in a kinship that transcends artificial borders, in the steady, dedicated assault on prejudice and bigotry.
--Robin Kadison Berson[4]

At Angel Island she would meet immigration inspector Charles Schulze. Intermarriage of Chinese and white Americans was illegal in California so the couple went to Vancouver, Washington to be legally married.[3] They were married in October 1913.[4] They had to quit their government jobs after the marriage due to racial prejudice. Schulze went to work for the Southern Pacific Company as an "inspector of office machines", and then as a superintendent of service for the Columbia Gramaphone Company.[5] The couple had four children.[3] Schulze died in 1935 and Leung served as a bookkeeper at the San Francisco Chinese Hospital to support her family.[4] Leung went to work as a night-shift PBX operator at the Chinatown telephone exchange.[3][4] She spent many years providing interpretation and social services to San Francisco's Chinatown residents. She passed at the approximate age of 85.[3]


In October 2011 the story of Tye Leung Schulze was told through a play starring actress Lily Tung.[6]

Further reading[edit]

  • Yung, Judy. Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley: University of California Press (1999). ISBN 0-520-21860-4


  1. ^ "Voting". Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance. National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "Monique Mehta". Women's History Month. National Women's History Project. 2007. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Lily Xiao Hong Lee; A. D. Stefanowska (1998). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: The Qing Period, 1644-1911. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 185–. ISBN 978-0-7656-0043-1. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Robin Kadison Berson (30 September 1994). Marching to a different drummer: unrecognized heroes of American history. ABC-CLIO. pp. 288–292. ISBN 978-0-313-28802-9. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Original business cards of Charles Schulze
  6. ^ Lovelie Faustino (2011). "Lily Tung Crystal portrays first Chinese American woman vote". Daily Dose: 10/13/11. AsianWeek. Retrieved 14 November 2011.