088: Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, 38

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

88: Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, 3-17-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, History Department, Ohio State University, 2004-present
Area of Research: Modern U.S. history, Asian Americans, Women, Immigration, the American West, and the 1960s.
Education: Ph.D., U.S. History with secondary field in Chinese History, Stanford University, 1998
Major Publications: Wu is the author of Doctor ‘Mom’ Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity, (University of California Press, 2005). She is currently working on “Radicals on the Road: Third World Internationalism and American Orientalism during the Viet Nam Era,” book project (advanced contract from Cornell University Press for the U.S. and the World Series, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu JPGedited by Mark Bradley and Paul Kramer).
Wu is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Journeys for Peace and Liberation: Third World Internationalism and Radical Orientalism during the U.S. War in Viet Nam,” special issue on “Asian American History in Transnational Perspective,” Pacific Historical Review 76:4 (November 2007): 575-584; “From OSU to Amsterdam: Transformative Learning through Community-Based Multi-Media Research,” Talking about Teaching: Essays by Members of the Ohio State University Academy of Teaching (May 2007), pp. 44-48; “‘The Ministering Angel of Chinatown:’ Missionary Uplift, Modern Medicine, and Asian American Women’s Strategies of Liminality,” Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology, ed. by Shirley Hune and Gail Nomura, (New York University Press, 2003), pp. 155-171; “Was Mom Chung a ‘Sister Lesbian’?: Asian American Gender Experimentation and Interracial Homoeroticism,” Journal of Women’s History 13:1 (Spring 2001), pp. 58-82, honorable Mention for the 2000-2001 Audre Lorde Prize, given for an outstanding article on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and/or queer history published in English, reprinted in American Dreaming, Global Realities: Rethinking U.S. Immigration History, ed. by Donna Gabaccia and Vicki L. Ruiz (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), pp. 379-398, will be reprinted in Unequal Sisters, 4th edition, ed. by Vicki L. Ruiz (forthcoming); “‘Loveliest Daughter of Our Ancient Cathay!': Representations of Ethnic and Gender Identity in the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Beauty Pageant,” Journal of Social History 31:1 (September 1997), pp. 5-31; reprinted in Business and Beauty: Commerce, Gender, and Culture in Modern America, ed. by Philip Scranton (Routledge Press, 2001), pp. 278-308, reprinted in Western Women’s Lives: Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century, ed. by Sandra K. Schackel (University of New Mexico Press, 2003), pp. 389-426.
Awards: Wu is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Faculty Grant, Mershon Center for International Security Studies, 2007-2008;
Ohio State University Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Award, 2007;
College of Humanities Research Enhancement Grant, Ohio State University, 2007-2008;
Emory University Short Term Fellowship, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta, Georgia, 2006-2007;
Schlesinger Library Research Support Grant, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Boston, Massachusetts, 2006-2007;
Coca-Cola CDW Faculty Research Grants, Women’s Studies Department, Ohio State University, 2006-2007;
Organization of Chinese Americans, Columbus Chapter, Special Recognitions Award for the OSU Asian American Studies Program for the Winter 2005 series of programs: “A Month of Remembrance: Japanese American Internment in Art and History,” 2006;
Technology Enhanced Learning and Research(TELR) Professional Development Grant, Ohio State University, 2006;
Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, University of Chicago, 2005-2006;
Graduate Interdisciplinary Specialization Grant to Develop a Concentration in Asian American Studies, Ohio State University Curriculum Committee of the Council on Research on Research and Graduate Studies, 2005-2006 ;
TELR Research on Research: Student-Faculty ePartnerships Grant, Ohio State University: Genna Duberstein’s documentary and website on Japanese American internment originated as part of the Month of Remembrance/Japanese American Oral history Project, 2005;
Multicultural Center (MCC) Collaborative Programming Grant for the Month of Remembrance, Ohio State University, 2005 ;
Student Affairs Diversity Enhancement Grant for the Month of Remembrance, Ohio State University, 2005;
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, 2003;
College of Humanities Seed Grant, Ohio State University, 2002-2004;
Virginia Hull Research Award, Ohio State University, 2002-2003;
Ada Leeke Fellowship, the Margaret Chase Smith Library, 2002;
Audre Lorde Prize, Committee on Lesbian and Gay History, American Historical Association, Honorable Mention, 2002;
Ohio State University Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award, 2002;
College of Humanities Diversity Enhancement Award, Ohio State University, Special Recognition, 2000-2001;
Outstanding Teaching Award, College of Arts and Sciences, Ohio State University, Finalist, 2000-2001;
Special Research Assignment, College of Humanities, Ohio State University, 2000, 2002;
Elizabeth D. Gee Fund for Research on Women, Ohio State University, 1999-2000;
Sidney Pressey Honors Course Enrichment Grant, Ohio State University Honors Center, 1999 and 2000 ;
University Seed Grant, Ohio State University, 1999;
Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Washington University, 1997-1998, Declined;
Graduate Dissertation Fellowship Award, 1997;
A. W. Mellon Foundation Dissertation Award, 1996-1997;
Albert J. Beveridge Grant, American Historical Association, 1996-1997;
Department Fellowship, Stanford University, 1992-1996;
Graduate Research Opportunity Funds, Stanford University, 1995-1996 ;

Additional Info:
Wu was Visiting Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and History Department in 2005-2006.

Personal Anecdote

I became a historian because I got arrested in college. Or, perhaps I got arrested because I believed in the power of history.

I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and immigrated with my family to Spokane, Washington when I was six years old. I helped my family run a restaurant and then a convenience store until I left to attend college at Stanford University.

When I was a sophomore, I became involved in a campaign to lobby for ethnic studies and ethnic student services. There had been a racially motivated attack against the African American theme dorm at Stanford. I thought such behavior was inappropriate, and it reminded me of the harassment and discrimination that my family experienced in the predominantly white community of Spokane. In response, I became a student activist. I worked with people of varying backgrounds to advocate for more courses that examined race and inequality. We also called for more institutional support for ethnic student service centers so that students of color might feel more at home on the college campus. I believed that if all students were exposed to the diversity of American society, they might learn to treat each other with more respect. Through meetings, petitions, rallies and eventually a protest at the president’s office which led to our arrest, we succeeded in persuading the university administration to hire the first faculties in Asian American Studies, conduct a review of the African American Studies Program, provide more funding and a full-time dean for the Chicano Student Center, and reexamine the eligibility of Native Hawaiians for affirmative action programs. I subsequently decided to major in American Studies so that I might learn more about the history, politics, and culture of the U.S. After completing an honors thesis on the 1960s social movements in San Francisco Chinatown and working at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, I eventually enrolled in the History Ph.D. program at Stanford.

Although these events occurred almost half of my lifetime ago, they remain formative for my intellectual, political, and personal development. Both my research and teaching foreground the analysis of race, gender, class, and nationality in the study of American history. I am particularly interested how categories of social difference and inequality are constructed and intertwined. I also pay close attention to how individuals create meaningful identities and interact with their lived environments. Because my goal is to promote greater understanding of the diversity of American history, I encourage students to think about various ways to study the past and to think about the connections between knowledge gained in the classroom and their experiences in contemporary society.

My current research project is very much influenced by my background as a student activist. In “Radicals on the Road: Third World Internationalism and American Orientalism during the Vietnam Era,” I explore the travels of American peace activists who criticized the U.S. war in Viet Nam. I am particularly interested in how the experiences of being outside of the U.S. and meeting non-Americans shaped the identities and political beliefs of diverse American activists.

My first book, Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity (University of California Press, 2005) is a biography of a colorful yet largely unrecognized historical figure. Dr. Margaret Chung (1889-1959) was the first known American-born Chinese female physician. She established one of the earliest Western medical clinics in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1920s. She also became a prominent celebrity and behind-the-scenes political broker during Sino-Japanese and Second World Wars. During this period, her home was the place to be in San Francisco. Soldiers, movie stars, and politicians gathered there to socialize, to show their dedication to the Allied cause, and to express their affection for their “adopted” mother. Chung’s surrogate sons numbered in the thousands and included well-known figures such as actor Ronald Reagan, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and musician Andre Kostelanetz. Chung even used her fictive kinship network to recruit pilots for the Flying Tigers and lobby for the creation of WAVES, the U.S. women’s naval reserve. Because she never married and could not provide a “legitimate” father figure, her “sons” became known as the “Fair-Haired Bastards.” Although Chung publicly adopted a maternal identity, she experimented with her gender presentation and developed romantic relationships with other women, such as writer Elsa Gidlow and entertainer Sophie Tucker. My book capitalizes on Chung’s uniqueness to examine how American race relations, gender roles, and sexual norms shifted over the course of her lifetime.

Quotes

By Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

  • During World War II, Mom Chung’s was the place to be in San Francisco. Soldiers preparing for departure to the Pacific arena of war or on leave from their duties went to eat good comfort food there. They consumed
    vast quantities of BBQ ribs, red beans, and chocolate cake, making up for the dreariness of military fare. They swapped stories with each other over drinks at the bar. They also caught glimpses of and actually talked with some of the foremost celebrities of their time: John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Tennessee Williams, Helen Hayes, Sophie Tucker, Tallulah Bankhead, and many others. At Mom Chung’s, they met prominent politicians and military leaders like Kentucky Senator and future commissioner of baseball “Happy” Chandler and Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy Chester W. Nimitz. — Judy Tzu-Chun Wu in “Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity”

About Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

  • “Engaging and easy to read, the work effectively creates an interesting and accessible narrative of Margaret Chung’s life from extensive research. While Wu successfully excavates Margaret’s life within a larger historical context, Mom Chung herself may have remained the victor in keeping her most intimate thoughts a secret…. Wu’s work makes important contributions in the four fields of Chinese-American, queer, military, and women’s history…. Still, as a comprehensive and nuanced first book on Margaret Chung, Judy Wu’s Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards undoubtedly lays invaluable groundwork for future scholars who might hope to look even more rigorously at Mom Chung’s intriguing life and her social significance. — Amy Sueyoshi, San Francisco State University reviewing “Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity” in the “Journal of American Ethnic History”
  • “Interweaving her remarkable life story with broader historical events, historian Judy Wu narrates a fascinating history of Chung’s meteoric rise from her humble origins as the eldest child of a poor and large Chinese Christian family to her successful career as a surgeon with Hollywood celebrity clients….. The book none the less succeeds because of Wu’s ability to bring together the broader social and cultural histories of Chinese Americans and women in the United States with significant changing local and national events. In particular, Wu’s narration brings new insights into the histories of the Protestant missionary movement, the medical profession and Progressive urban reform by simultaneously applying the analytical lenses of gender, race and sexuality in her reworking of these histories. More importantly, though, the recovery of the remarkable life history of Margaret Chung provides readers with a glimpse into the varied gender, racial and sexual experimentations available to Chinese American women in that period. The chapters dealing with Margaret Chung’s sexual persona and same-sex female relationships particularly offer exciting new scholarship for the fields of the history of sexuality and Asian American studies. — Mary Ting Yi Lui Yale University, reviewing “Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity” in
  • “This is a superb study of the life of a remarkable person, Margaret Chung, who was the first female professor and chair of obstetrics in a coeducational medical school and the first woman ever to give a paper at the International Congress of Medicine. She was also one of the first Chinese American women to rise to prominence, socially and politically, in mainstream America. Thanks to recent scholarship, we now know a great deal about the history of Chinese Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. But past historical studies tend to seek to capture the collective profiles of Chinese Americans. Judy Tzu-Chun Wu’s biographical study, therefore, marks a welcome contribution to Chinese American history…. Wu has made an enormously fruitful effort in uncovering and gathering data from a wide range of sources, such as government and nongovernment agencies, archives, and private collection across the nations as well as a long list of oral interviews, many of which were conducted by the author herself. Based on such rich and diverse data, Wu’s book not only gives us a fascinating and detailed account of Chung’s life story but also uncovers critical aspects of her family history. More important, it constitutes an important social and political history, offering important perspectives through which to understand vital issues such as race, gender, and Americanization during the first half of the twentieth century…. Overall, however, this richly contextualized, well-researched, and well-written biography offers not only a multiperspective portrait of the complex experiences of a remarkable Chinese American woman but also valuable insights into early twentieth-century American society. 6 — Yong Chen, University of California, Irvine reviewing “Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity” in “The American Historical Review”
  • “Using autobiographical materials and other unpublished papers belonging to Dr. Margaret Chung (1889–1959), correspondence from admirers and friends, and oral histories, and supplementing these with published and archival materials, Judy Wu has done an outstanding job in describing and analyzing the life and times of this unusual woman who is the first known American-born Chinese female physician…. Her “adopted” children brought her fame and prestige, and because of them and Wu, this unusual female professional will not be forgotten. — Sue Fawn Chung, University of Nevada, Las Vegas reviewing “Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity” in “The Western Historical Quarterly”
  • “The most socially conscious, rigorously researched celebrity biography to be published by a university press in a long while. Wu’s book transcends the university-syllabi pigeonhole because her scholarship equals the task of essaying its broader topic: the culture of celebrity.” — East Bay Express review of “Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity”

Posted on Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 7:26 PM

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