Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Tye Leung Schulze, 1887-1972

By Judy Yung, Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sketch adapted and reprinted from Judy Yung, Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 281-85.

Tye Leung Schulze was born in San Francisco in 1887 and died in 1972 at the age of eighty-four. She was a tiny woman--only four feet tall--but she had a big heart and a strong will. At twelve she escaped an arranged marriage by seeking refuge at the Presbyterian Mission Home. She stayed on to help rescue and interpret for Chinese prostitutes, and she took charge of planning the meals for the Home. In 1910, while working at the Angel Island Immigration Service as assistant to the matrons, Tye met and fell in love with Charles Frederick Schulze, an immigration inspector of german and Scottish descent. Against their parents' wishes and California's antimiscegenation law, the two got married in the state of Washington, where interracial marriage was allowed. Both lost their civil service jobs at Angel Island as a result. In 1912 Tye Leung Schulze made newspaper headlines for being "the first Chinese woman in the history of the world to exercise the electoral franchise."1 "Modern Chinese Adopt the Auto: President of Oriental Republic and Local 'Suffragette' Are Motor Fans," San Francisco Call, May 19, 1962, p. 63. Accompanying this article on Tye Leung Schulze being the first Chinese woman to vote in an election was a photograph of her behind the wheel of a Studebaker-Flanders car that Dr. Sun Yat-sen supposedly also drove. According to the article, "Miss Tie [Tye[ believes in the automobile and regards it in its various functions as a mark of progress--her own watchword." Interestingly enough, according to her son Fred Schulze, Tye never owned or drove an automobile in her life. While her husband Charles worked at the Southern Pacific Railway Company as a mechanic, Tye went to school to learn bookkeeping and later landed a job as a night-shift operator at the Chinatown Telephone Exchange.Until dial telephones became available, the Chinatown Telephone Exchange operated a switchboard at 743 Washington Street that received all calls for Chinatown. Twenty-two women worked as operators, working three shifts around the clock. They were expected to know English and five Chinese dialects, had to memorize over 2,100 phone numbers, and handled an average of 17,000 calls per day. Given the limited job opportunities for Chinese American women before World War II, this was considered a good job for that time. They had four children and chose to live close to Chinatown. Committed to serving her community, Tye spent many years providing interpreting and social services to the Chinese people in San Francisco.

Both Fred and Louise Schulze remember their mother as a warm, gentle, and loving person who was well respected in Chinatown despite the fact that she had married outside of her race. At the time of our interview, Louise generously shared with me the following autobiographical essay that she had found among her mother's possessions. The title, "Tiny," refers to the nickname Donaldina Cameron gave Tye because of her size. Written in Tye's neat handwriting on lined paper, the essay is undated but most likely was written late in her life, judging by the ending. Nor is there a clear indication as to whom it was written for; possibly for her children, possibly as a tribute to Donaldina Cameron, whom Tye remained close to until Cameron's death in 1968.

On six sheets of paper we learn Tye's entire life story, from birth and early childhood in a large and poor family to her retirement from the Chinatown Telephone Exchange and many hours of volunteer work in the Chinese community. The one theme that stands out in this essay is the important role that Christianity and Donaldina Cameron played in her life. The church provided Tye with an education, helped her return her to her family after her mother sold her into domestic servitude, rescued her from an arranged marriage she rejected, provided her family with shelter after the 1906 earthquake and fire, and recommended her for the civil service job at Angel Island. In conclusion, Tye acknowledges Cameron for helping her become who she was: "I owed a lot to Miss Cameron who was so tender and good teaching [me] the ten years I spent with her, to know what's right and wrong." Similar to the sentiments expressed by Chinese American Christians in this section, "Tiny" is a testimony to the important influence of Christianity in the lives of second-generation women.

back to top