Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Bertha Grace Chan, 1887-1968

(See also Mrs. S. K. Chan [LINK])

By Anne Meis Knupfer, Professor Emerita, Purdue University

Suffragist and charity worker

Bertha Grace Chan, daughter of Methodist minister Sing Kai Chan and Dr. S. K. Chan, was born in 1887 in Hong Kong. Her family moved the next year to Vancouver, Canada, where her father assisted with establishing the city's first Chinese Methodist church. In 1901, the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where her father became minister of the Chinese Methodist Mission and her mother continued her work as a doctor.

While in high school, "Bertie" entered the Oregon Daily Journal's contest to win a scholarship to the James Holmes Business College where she hoped to study commerce and stenography. Since the scholarship was based on soliciting newspaper subscriptions, family members and teachers assisted. Her cousin, Seid Back, Jr., a U.S. Customs Service employee, helped collect subscriptions and one of her teachers testified to Bertie's talent and ambition. She also received the endorsement of T. S. McDaniell, a prominent Portland lawyer and mayoral candidate for the Prohibition Party. Although she did not receive a scholarship to the business college, she did receive a $200 scholarship to study piano at the Oregon Conservatory of Music.

Bertie, along with her sisters, Lilly and Ida, engaged in numerous fundraising activities at various churches and the Chinese mission in Portland. In 1906, she and Lilly organized a fundraiser for a girls' school in Canton. Bertie also helped organize a benefit concert at the Epworth Methodist Church and played piano for the event, as well as at the Christmas celebration for the Chinese Methodist Episcopal Mission. At another fundraiser, which Bertie helped organize, the Chinese Students' Alliance of Portland raised nearly $400 for famine relief in China. She also assisted in another fundraiser at the Chinese mission, which brought in over 600 dollars for the Red Cross's China's famine relief effort. These activities demonstrated her strong commitment to transnational activism.

She likewise became involved in social and literary groups as well. In 1908 she was inducted into the literary society, the Philolexians. At one of their meetings, the members held a discussion about modern China and debated how the United States, Japan, and England should form an alliance to control Chinese trade. The social pages of newspapers also listed her attendance at and hostessing of parties for her school friends. Such events prepared her for speaking on behalf of suffrage.

In April 1912, Bertie was amongst the seven Chinese-American women invited to a banquet in honor of La Reine Helen Baker, a journalist who had spent time with English suffragists. Bertie translated for her mother who spoke of her appreciation for what Americans had given China - missionaries who taught about equality, "avenues of commerce," and a better understanding of democracy. A few months later, Bertie was a member of a committee that organized a luncheon at the Imperial Hotel for Anita Whitney, a journalist who had helped secure suffrage in California in 1911. There the women discussed how they might further participate in government. She was also one of eight young suffragists on a Rose Festival float that year.

That summer, Bertie continued her involvement in benefits for famine sufferers in China. She chaired a committee with the Young China Society for a benefit at a theater; the proceeds were given to the Chamber of Commerce to send to proper agencies in China.

Her American activism, however, was interrupted when she moved to San Francisco following her marriage to Gustav Leong, an American-born dentist, in 1912. There were persistent problems with his dentistry license so the couple decided to move to Tianjin, China in 1918. There were no records of Bertie's activities while she lived there the next twenty-five years. Was she involved in the girls' school and missions that the Methodist missionaries had established in the city? Did she continue her fundraising or social activism? Did she continue the work of her deceased sister, Lillian, an "ardent suffragette" who had graduated from Wheaton Seminary in Illinois and who wanted to be a teacher in China and work on behalf of the Chinese government?

Following the death of her husband, Bertie returned to California in 1945 with one of her sons. She died in Berkeley, California in June of 1968.


"Appeal for Chinese Girl." Oregon Daily Journal, July 21, 1906, p. 4.

"Another Incentive for Ambitious Young Men and Women to Work Hard," Oregon Daily Journal, Aug. 19, 1906, p. 19.

"Baptist Independent Congregation," Oregon Daily Journal, Apr. 11, 1903, p. 15.

"Chinese Girl Anxious for an Education." Oregon Daily Journal, June 22, 1906, p. 16.

"Bertie Chan," Family Search,

Chan, Frances I. "Miss Bertie G. Chan (陳端信) and G. G. Leong (梁官照)," Boxer Indemnity Scholars,

"Chan Sing Kai and His Daughter, Who is A Suffragette." The Oregonian, Oct. 9, 1912, p. 6.

"Chinese Give Concert. Thousand Persons Attend." The Oregonian, Mar. 12, 1911, p. 11.

"Chinese People Happy, Elaborate Programme Enjoyed." The Oregonian, Jan. 1, 1911, p. 12.

"Chinese Women Dine with White." The Oregonian, Apr. 12, 1912, p. 16.

"College Equal Suffragists, Chinese Women Dine Together. Celestial Speaker Thanks Her

American Sisters Heartily." The Oregon Daily Journal, Apr. 12, 1912, p. 6.

"Contestants Enrolled." Oregon Daily Journal, June 9, 1906, p. 4.

"Contestants Enrolled." Oregon Daily Journal, July 21, 1906, p. 4.

"Entertainment for Famine Sufferers." Oregon Daily Journal, Apr. 24, 1912, p. 7.

"Journal Education Contest." Oregon Daily Journal, July 7, 1906, p. 12.

"Journal Scholarship Contest." Oregon Daily Journal, July 2, 1906, p. 7.

"Miss Whitney Is Suffragists' Guest." The Oregonian, June 29, 1912, p. 9.

"List of Cash Prizes and Scholarships Distributed...". Oregon Daily Journal, Sept. 17, 1906, p. 14.

"Matrimony Notice." The Oregonian, Sept. 18, 1912, p. 12.

"Rebel Flag in Church. Chinese Children Wave Emblem." The Oregonian, Nov. 21, 1911, p. 1.

"Society Page." Oregon Daily Journal, Jan. 9, 1910, p. 49.

"Social and Personal." Oregon Daily Journal, Feb. 11, 1910, p. 2.

"Students Interested in Many Enterprises—Debate Live Questions." Oregon Daily Journal, Nov. 8, 1908, p. 57.

"Tonight's Amusements." Oregon Daily Journal, Mar. 22, 1908, p. 9.

"Valentine Party." Oregon Daily Journal, Feb. 13, 1910, p. 4.

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