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Mom Chung, 1st Chinese female doctor in U.S.,"adopted" 1000's WWII Navy pilots, & helped create the Flying Tigers & Navy WAVES #pioneer

Introduction

Ten years ago, I decided to do research on my grandfather, who in 1915 was the first person of Chinese descent to graduate from USC Law School. One of the people I contacted emailed an LA Times article about the first woman of Chinese descent to graduate from USC Medical School. Her name was Margaret Chung. As challenging as my grandfather’s journey was, a 12-year old alone aboard a ship to America, then working as a houseboy to pay for college, Margaret’s story was fascinating to read because of her tremendous achievements in the face of societal norms.

Dr. Margaret Chung -- Her favorite PR photo
Dr. Margaret Chung -- Her favorite PR photo

During my research, I contacted Judy Wu, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State University and received a draft manuscript of her book, Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards, The Life of a Wartime Celebrity. After the book was published, Judy graciously emailed me some of the correspondence she received from the children of the servicemen who were “adopted” by “Mom Chung”. My goal is to produce a documentary that will give much deserved recognition to a true pioneer and patriot.

First Chinese Female U.S. Physician

Dr. Chung driving her car!
Dr. Chung driving her car!

The oldest of eleven children, born in 1889 to Chinese immigrants in California, Margaret Chung became the first known Chinese-American female physician. The only woman in her class at the University of Southern California's School of Medicine, Margaret sold newspapers, worked in a cafeteria and won speech contests to earn enough money to get through school. When she finished school, she took a job as a nurse because she could not find one as a doctor. And when her parents died, she took care of her siblings. If this tale of stubborn determination to succeed were the end of it, then Margaret Chung would have been like many other Americans who found a road where there seemed to be only obstacles. But this multi-faceted woman did much more than succeed in her career.

"Mom" to Thousands of WWII Navy Pilots

Some people just have charmed lives; they're loved by everyone they meet and they make their way through life on a lark. Margaret Chung wasn't a passive recipient of others' good favor and graces. She opened up one of the first Western medicine clinics in San Francisco's Chinatown, serving a population of people who often couldn't pay for her services. When asked to conduct medical examinations on seven Navy reserve pilots, Margaret conducted the exams and then treated them to a home-cooked meal. These self-described “Fair-Haired Bastards” became the core of a large family that was able to identify one another by the jade Buddha's given to them by their "Mom Chung." And if you thought that she simply offered hospitality and a token present, you'd be wrong. These sons were thought of, remembered, and devoted to by this woman. When she retired from her medical practice, they pitched in and bought her a house to live out the rest of her life, which ended with cancer in 1959.

The Flying Tigers and the Navy WAVES

In addition to the personal legacy she left with so many servicemen, she also made a mark on the greater world stage. When Japan invaded China in 1937, she volunteered to be a front-line surgeon. After being deterred, she took an unofficial assignment recruiting pilots to help defend China as part of the American volunteer group known as the Flying Tigers. 

Mom Chung recruited aviators known as the Flying Tigers
Mom Chung recruited aviators known as the Flying Tigers

She also lobbied her Congress to established the Navy WAVES, to expand women's wartime role, and used her contacts with her "adopted sons" to push through the legislation. 

Dr. Chung helped establish the Navy WAVES
Dr. Chung helped establish the Navy WAVES

Her fame during the war landed her in comic books:

Mom Chung featured in Real Heroes comic book series (Feb/March 1943)
Mom Chung featured in Real Heroes comic book series (Feb/March 1943)

and the lead female character of a movie, King of Chinatown, starring Anna May Wong, was based on Dr. Chung.

Movie Poster from the King of Chinatown
Movie Poster from the King of Chinatown

In the decade after the war, she retired from medical practice, and her "sons" pitched in and bought her a house in Marin County, where—still unmarried—she died of cancer in 1959. World War II naval hero Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, a Golden Dolphin, and George Christopher, the Mayor of San Francisco during that time, were pallbearers.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was a pallbearer
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was a pallbearer

Pioneer and Patriot

Though a woman, she often dressed as a man during medical school. Though unmarried, she unofficially adopted a thousand wartime pilots, giving them gifts, cooking them meals and being loved as a mother. And as she ran a clinic for patients who could not afford to pay, she mingled with movie stars and admirals. 

Margaret Chung rose above sexism, racism and even the social protocol of her times. For that, she pioneered for herself an incredibly rich life that touched thousands.

Budget

Our Kickstarter goal is $2,500, but the project needs to raise a lot more money. Realistically, we need to raise at least another $50,000. If you are interested in helping us achieve this goal, there are additional investment opportunities available outside of our Kickstarter campaign.

With this $2,500 seed money we can interview Dr. Chung’s family members, friends, and especially the servicemen and their descendents about impact Mom Chung had on their lives. 

Stretch Goal I: $25,000

With additional funding, we can:

A) Research and license the use of Dr. Chung’s personal papers that she donated to the UC Berkeley library.  

B) Hire actors, artists, animators, editors, and advisers to create reenactments for more an inspirational film. 

Estimate of Production Costs

  • $10 will pay for breakfast and lunch for a crew member on a 12-hour day. 
  • $150 will pay for a day of rental for the van including safe parking for it overnight. 
  • $500 will pay for the rental of a cinema quality camera package for a day of shooting. 
  • $500 will pay for the six hard drives we will need to store and backup the footage we shoot. 
  • $1,000 will pay for our entire costume budget for all characters for the whole shoot. 
  • $5,000 will pay for a three-month rental apartment that will be our production office and rehearsal space.

Stretch Goal II: $50,000

Estimate of Post-Production Costs

  • Final Editing: $10,000 
  • Animation: $5,000 
  • Final Music Score: $5,000 
  • Professional quality sound edit and mix for festivals: $10,000
  • Conform, Color Correction and Graphics: $10,000 
  • HD Cam Conversion: $500 
  • One film festival submission: $50

FAQ

Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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