Margaret “Mom” Chung (1889-1959) was born in Santa Barbara, California, to Chinese immigrant parents. She had to start working at 10 years old because her parents became too ill to work. She drove a horse-drawn freight wagon and later worked in a Chinese restaurant as well as taking care of her parents and younger siblings.
Between 1911-1916, she put herself through USC medical school and is the first documented Chinese-American female physician. She chose to dress in men’s clothing and went by the name “Mike” during her studies. She did not leave documentation for her reasons but she was the only woman in her class and already an outsider because of her race. Once she established her medical practice, she wore women’s clothes and went by “Margaret” again. She had a practice in San Francisco’s Chinatown and later moved to Los Angeles went on to be a doctor to many Hollywood celebrities.
During the 1930s she was treating several naval pilots who began calling her “Mom Chung'' and calling themselves “Mom Chung’s Fair-Haired Bastard Sons.” Chung then began “adopting” more servicemen as sons, especially those whom she recruited for the Flying Tigers, a volunteer force that assisted the Chinese Air Force in fighting Japan before America entered WWII. She regularly wrote to all her sons, sent care packages, and invited them to her home for dinner. She gave each of her sons a jade Buddha necklace. Her many sons could instantly recognize each other by the necklaces. By the end of the war she had over 1,500 sons, many of whom went on to become important politicians, commanders, businessmen, and artists. Ronald Reagan was son #131. She used her influence with the military for the creation of the U.S. Women’s Naval Reserve (the WAVES) thus opening up more opportunities for women.
She was briefly engaged to a man but she never married. She had very intense relationships with at least two women, entertainer Sophie Tucker and lesbian poet Elsa Gidlow. Chung never came out as a lesbian, so it cannot be absolutely proven, but it was suspected. Personal correspondence with these two women does support that she was probably a lesbian and is the likely reason why she fell into obscurity despite being very popular and having very powerful connections with both politicians and celebrities. When she died in 1959 her pallbearers were Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, famed conductor Andre Kostelanetz and San Francisco Mayor George Christopher.
In 1942 she was featured in a comic book series called “Real Heroes” which was published by Parents Magazine Institute highlighting real people doing heroic things during WWII. (Link to comic below). In 2012 she was honored with a plaque on the LGBTQ Legacy Walk in Chicago and in 2013 a tunnel boring machine for San Francisco’s Municipal Railway Central Subway was named in her honor.
Full Comic Book Story: