Columbia University Honors 100th Anniversary of Dr. Mabel Ping-hua Lee’s Phd in Economics

New York, Nov 5, 2021, — Columbia University will hold a webinar on Nov. 8 to honor Dr. Mabel Ping-hua Lee receiving Phd in Economics from Columbia 100 years ago. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (李彬华, October 7, 1896 – 1966) was a Chinese-American women’s rights activist and minister who campaigned for women’s suffrage in the United States. Later in life, Lee became a Baptist minister, working with the First Chinese Baptist Church in NYC Chinatown.

Lee started her studies at Barnard College in New York City in 1912. Barnard College, an all-women’s school, was founded because Columbia University refused to admit women. While there, Mabel joined the Chinese Students’ Association and wrote feminist essays for The Chinese Students’ Monthly. Lee was involved in the suffrage movement throughout college. Her May 1914 essay, “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage,” argued that suffrage for women was necessary to a successful democracy. The extension of democracy (through voting) and “equality of opportunities to women” was, she stated, the hallmarks of true feminism.

Women won the right to vote in New York State in 1917. In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women throughout the country the right to vote. But not all women in the US benefitted. Chinese women, like Mabel Lee, could not vote until 1943. This was because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a Federal law in place from 1882 to 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act limited Chinese immigration and prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens. Without US citizenship, Mabel Lee could not vote. Yet, she and other Chinese suffragists advocated for women’s voting rights, even though they did not benefit from the legislation.

After graduating from Barnard College, Lee got a PhD in economics at Columbia University. She was the first Chinese woman to do so. In 1921, Lee published her research as a book called The Economic History of China.

The Cosponsors of this event:
  • Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
  • Department of Economics
  • Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender
  • Department of Political Science
  • Barnard Women and Gender Studies Department
  • Weatherhead East Asia Institute
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities


  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.

Please join us in honoring Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Barnard College (1916) PhD, Columbia Economics (1921).

Activist for women’s suffrage,
Activist for the Chinese Students Association,
Leader, First Chinese Baptist Church,
Master of Arts in Educational Administration, Teachers College, 1919,
University Scholar of Columbia, 1919-1921

Suresh Naidu, Professor of Economics, Columbia University
Robert Gee
 and Rev. Dr. Bayer Jack-Wah Lee, First Chinese Baptist Church
Barnard Students, Women and Gender Studies
Cathleen Cahill
, Associate Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University
Madeline Hsu
, Professor of History, U of Texas at Austin

Mae Ngai, Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and History, Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race