Tape v. Hurley
Mary Tape was a biracial Chinese American woman who believed that her daughter, Mamie, should have the same access to education as white children in San Francisco. In particular, Mary Tape wanted her daughter to be able to attend public school. When the local school principal, Jennie Hurley, stood in the schoolhouse door to bar Mamie’s entrance on the sole grounds that she was Chinese, Mary Tape took Jennie Hurley to court. 43
In 1885, almost seventy years before the famous Supreme Court Decision Brown v. Board of Education desegregated American public schools, Mary Tape sued the San Francisco School District to offer public education to all Chinese children. Tape v. Hurley was one of the most important civil rights decisions in American history. In this ground breaking case, Superior Court Judge James Maguire ruled that Chinese children must have access to public education: “To deny a child, born of Chinese parents in this state, entrance to the public schools would be a violation of the law of the state and the Constitution of the United States.” 44
Yet even after the court found that the San Francisco Board of Education violated the fourteenth amendment in banning Mamie from the public school, the school still refused to admit her, stating that Mamie had not gotten her vaccinations in time.
On April 16, 1885 Mary Tape wrote an impassioned letter to the Alta California newspaper, expressing her anger at this injustice:
“What right have you to bar my child out of the school because she is Chinese […] You have expended a lot of the Public money foolishly, all because of one poor little Child ….It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress…they are hated…I will let the world see sir What justice there is When it is governed by the Race of prejudice men!” 45Mary Tape was an early Chinese American woman who took up an urgent and historic public cause. In the court and through the press, Mary Tape demanded the right to public education for her daughter and for the children of the Chinese community. 46