Dr. Margaret Chung: Proud ‘Mom’ of WWII’s Fair-Haired Bastards

First Chinese American Female Physician and Wartime Celebrity

Planes of the 'Flying Tigers' unit in World War II.
In one of the more unlikely pairings of World War II, Margaret Chung, the country’s first Chinese-American female physician, helped recruit fighter pilots for the “Flying Tigers.” That unit of P40 aircraft, famed for its planes’ shark face nose art, was secretly equipped and trained by the U.S. military. Its pilots operated in China as mercenaries helping to repel Japanese air raids during the year before America officially entered the war.

From the time she was 10 years old, Margaret Chung wanted to become a doctor. But with no dolls or toys to practice on, she resorted to using banana peels to practice her suture technique. Born into a time when the stories of Chinese Americans were those of rejection and exclusion, Margaret Chung learned early on she would need to forge a distinctive path for herself if she were to achieve her dreams.

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Biddy Mason – From Enslaved to One of Los Angeles’ Wealthiest Women

A mural celebrates Biddy Mason's contributions to the development of early Los Angeles.
In 1949, for its new headquarters building in Los Angeles, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company commissioned artist Charles Alston to create this mural memorializing the African American contributions to the creation of Los Angeles and the State of California. The overlay in the lower right is the only known photo of Biddy Mason. The red arrow points her out in the mural. Click image for larger color version of mural.

Born into slavery in 1818 and sold away from her parents as a child, Bridget “Biddy” Mason went from being a slave owner’s wedding present to his new bride to one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest women, and one of the first African American women to buy and own property in the United States.

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Mary Eliza Mahoney – First African American Graduate Nurse

New England Hospital for Women and Children
In 1879, Mary Mahoney made American history when she graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s nursing school as the first African American to become a professional, licensed nurse.

When Mary Eliza Mahoney graduated in 1879 as America’s first professional nurse, she stood on the shoulders of giants. Jamaica’s Mary Seacole nursed soldiers during the Crimean War; Harriet Tubman and Susie King Taylor tended the Civil War’s wounded; and Namahyoke Sockum Curtis battled typhoid, yellow fever and malaria as a nurse during the Spanish-American War.

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Anna Coleman Ladd: Repairing WWI’s Broken Faces

Before the modern age facial reconstruction and plastic surgery, Anna Coleman Ladd was one of a handful of unique artisans in World War I who created highly detailed masks to hide severely mutilated soldiers’ facial wounds.

Philadelphia-born Anna Coleman Ladd is best known for her neoclassical portrait busts and bronze sculptures of sprites frolicking in public fountains. But her greatest work — and her most important legacy — was restoring the self-respect, honor and dignity to World War I veterans known by the French as “the men with the broken faces.”

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Lillian Wald — Mother of Public Health Nursing

A high society girl who abandoned her upper crust life to become a nurse in the 1880s, Lillian Wald and her corps of public health nurses changed the world of health care in the teeming immigrant slums of New York’s Lower East Side and established a new mode of nursing focused on the poor that spread across the country.

We hear a lot about privilege these days. And this Wednesday’s Woman, Lillian Wald, would be the first to tell you she was born into privilege — the daughter of wealthy German-Polish parents whose families fled Europe seeking economic opportunity. She once described herself as a well-educated, frivolous, spoiled socialite. But two pivotal events shaped this frivolous, spoiled socialite into a humanitarian and visionary who dedicated her life to helping others.

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Bessie Blount Griffin: Inventor, Crime Fighter, Hospital Wonder Woman

Above is Bessie Virginia Blount Griffin’s patent for an invention that enabled paralyzed or limbless veterans of World War II to feed themselves.

That Bessie Blount Griffin became a inventor, physical therapist, business women, forensics expert and social activist before she passed on in 2009 is all the more remarkable, given that she was born in an era before women — particularly African American women — could expect opportunities in any one of the multiple fields in which she ultimately succeeded. Her life is a lesson in tenacity, irrepressible creativity and a deep sense of empathy for the people and causes she helped.

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