A Woman to Know: Tye Leung Schulze

I wanted to know what was right, not to act blindly. — Tye Leung Schulze

I wanted to know what was right, not to act blindly. — Tye Leung Schulze

(image via Library of Congress)

In 1910, Tye Leung Schulze made history. When Angel Island, the immigration facility in San Francisco, hired her as an translator to work with incoming immigrants, she became the first Chinese-American woman to be employed by the U.S. government.

On May 9, 1912, Tye again made history, becoming the first Chinese-American woman to vote in the United States. As she told The San Francisco Examiner in an exclusive interview:

My first vote? Oh, yes, I thought long over that. I studied; I read about all your men who wished to be president. I learned about the new laws ... I think it right we should all try to learn, not vote blindly, since we have been given this right to say which man we think is the greatest ... I think too that we women are more careful than the men. We want to do our whole duty more. I do not think it is just the newness that makes us like that. It is conscience.

While working at Angel Island, Tye met Charles, a government inspector, and the two fell in love. At the time, however, they couldn’t have a wedding in California; Charles was white, and interracial marriage was still illegal in much of the United States. They traveled to Washington, the one state that could legally wed them. But when the newlyweds returned to San Francisco, they both lost their jobs on Angel Island.

From there, Tye cobbled a living out of odd jobs, working as a bookkeeper, telephone operator, part-time translator and even, later in life, making a name for herself a pinball wizard. After Charles died in 1935, she threw herself into activism, working near-constantly as community advocate for San Francisco’s Chinatown.

And she didn’t slow down later in life — at age 61, she was arrested for driving women to illegal abortion appointments. She fought tirelessly to have the charges dropped, eventually winning her case in 1948.

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