Leaving China & the
Journey Across the

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at


Women in Cultural

The Great Depression
and War


Additional Resources




Rose Hum Lee.
Courtesy of Mai Wah Society, Butte, Montana

Rose Hum Lee (1904-1964) was one of the most prominent Chinese American relief workers. Lee was a native of Butte, Montana, and the daughter of a miner.  After high school she married a Chinese student and moved to the Kwangtung province of China.  Rose Hum Lee became a successful businesswoman in China with investments in banking, communication, and silk. 

In 1937, when Japan bombed Canton, one of China’s major seaports, Rose Hum Lee led the Emergency Committee for the Relief of Refugees and volunteered with the Canton Red Cross and the Overseas Relief Unit.  Her international background and ability to speak several languages were valuable skills, and she was able to translate Japanese documents for the Chinese government.

In 1939, as Japan was overtaking all of China’s coastal cities, Rose Hum Lee divorced her husband and used her American citizenship to leave Asia, taking with her an adopted war orphan. Rose Hum Lee arrived back in the U.S. two years before the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  China was now cut off from the U.S., and had she waited to return, she might not have survived the brutal war in China.

Rose Hum Lee tried to make sense of the world swirling around her by switching from business to academia. Within a decade she earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago. In 1955, Dr. Lee became the first Chinese American woman to chair an American university department.  After remarrying, she moved to Phoenix and published the classic The Chinese in the United States of America (1960). 54