Chinatown Post Office Named for Mabel Lee

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, center, joins Virginia Kee to her left and Deacon Robert Gee and Rev. Bayer Lee, both of the First Chinese Baptist Church, on the far right, and other community leaders in honoring Mabel Lee. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

The post office at 6 Doyers St. in Chinatown was officially renamed the “Mabel Lee Memorial Post Office” on Dec. 3. At a dedication ceremony held at the First Chinese Baptist Church in Chinatown that Lee founded, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who proposed the bill for the renaming, joined community and faith leaders and representatives from the United States Postal Service (USPS) to salute Lee’s contribution to the Chinese-American community as well as to the women’s suffrage movement.

Rev. Bayer Lee and Deacon Gary Quan of the church said that in the 1920s, the location of the church was the heart of Chinatown, and it was also an area where gang fights often took place. Lee, who was often compared to Mulan, a legendary female hero in ancient China, decided to open the church until late at night so that the delinquent youths could come in to get some rest or share their struggles. Many of them were saved from committing serious crimes because of this.

Hope Jensen Leichter, professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University, said Lee was the first Chinese woman to receive a Ph.D. from the university, and a pioneer in community services and civil rights. In May 1917, the then 22-year-old Lee led a group of Chinese women to participate in a suffrage parade in New York.

Lee, who majored in economics, could have gotten a well-paid job. But she chose to serve the community instead. Virginia Kee, who is in her 80s, said Lee was her kindergarten teacher who taught her to speak English and took her to Central Park for the first time. [Editor’s note: Kee, along with her late husband, co-founded the Chinatown political club United Democratic Organization.]

Lee also organized classes in Chinatown to teach immigrants job skills like carpentry, broadcasting and typing.

Rep. Velazquez said in the 1920s, American society offered little opportunities to women. Lee had to conquer endless barriers to achieve what she did. That’s why she was such an inspiring figure and deserved to have a post office named after her.

Ann Ko, manager, operations program support at the USPS, said there are 200,000 women working for the USPS today, of whom 60,000 are of Asian descent. And Lee is their role model.

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