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Virginia Lee Mead

The youngest of seven children, Virginia Lee Mead was born in 1922 to Lee B. Lok and Ng Shee Lee in New York's Chinatown. Living with her family above her father's store and growing up in a financially stable household, she led a privileged childhood filled with piano and ballet lessons and occasional trips to the opera. Since education was a priority for her parents, she attended college, graduating from Barnard with a major in French. Mead's first job was with the United China Relief Organization in New York doing public relations. She later worked for eight years at the Lester Harrison advertising agency on fashion and home furnishings accounts. In 1954, she married Robert Mead, a government engineer. Virginia Mead later became a community activist in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood.

Her father, Lee B. Lok, was born in 1869, in the Toishan District, Kwangtong Province of China. (Sixty percent of Chinese immigrants came from this trading district.) In 1881, at age 12, he arrived with an uncle in San Francisco by way of a merchant ship. He then traveled to New York City, getting his first job as a dishwasher in the Bowery. He later joined an import/export firm, which in 1891 became part of the establishment of a general store, Quong Yuen, Shing & Co. This store served as a mail drop, herbal pharmacy, and exchange spot for money to China. In 1894, Lok became head of the company, due to his ability to speak English. By paying $1,000 to be upgraded on identity papers from coolie to merchant status, Lok was exempted from the Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1896, he returned to China, where he was matched and married to Ng Shee Lee (born 1874). The couple had seven children--six daughters and a son. Lok also founded the Chinese Merchants Association.

 


Chinese Immigration

In the mid 1800s, almost all Chinese immigrants entered the United States via San Francisco. They often arrived under contract to American employers, who financed their transportation. Generally, Chinese Americans worked building the railroads, in light manufacturing, or as domestic and retail workers in mining camps and other places. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which ended most immigration from China. During World War II, however, Congress made a gesture of goodwill toward its wartime ally China: Congress passed a bill allowing 105 Chinese immigrants to enter the country every year.

 

Related Images

Postcard from the Lok family collection
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Postcard from the Lok family collection
Postcard from the Lok family collection
Enlarge
Postcard from the Lok family collection
Postcard from the Lok family collection
Enlarge
Postcard from the Lok family collection
Postcard from the Lok family collection
Enlarge
Postcard from the Lok family collection


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