As I was flipping through a box cataloging some materials, I ran across a letter that made me pause for a seconds. Sandwiched between a few Christmas cards and a few letters from the Cadbury’s adopted son was a letter from Rose Hum Lee. The name was familiar enough to make me pause for a second and Google it before moving on.
A quick check of Wikipedia scholarly publications told me that Rose Hum Lee was an important twentieth century sociologist who was one of the leading voices of the Chicago school. She was the first woman and the first Chinese-American to head an academic department, and she was the foremost advocate of the assimilationist approach towards integration of racial minorities. Essentially, she was the most articulate proponent of the still very present idea that racial minorities must adopt an American identity and cast off affiliations with their previous cultures. The Wikipedia journal article redirected me to some of the books I had used on my thesis on Chinese-white intermarriage, specifically one on the development of the Chicago school of thought and its research on intermarriage. This book, Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America by Henry Yu, had a whole chapter on Dr. Lee’s work based on her daughter’s collection of her papers now at UCLA.
Yu writes that much of Dr. Lee’s work was based off of her on own experience growing up as the daughter of well to do merchants in Butte, Montana.
“Lee often used her own family, and especially her mother, as examples of the successful assimilation of Chinese- Americans. Her dissertation’s appendix contained an extended life history of the Hums, and she often referred to her family’s experiences to illustrate analytical points. Interestingly, however, all descriptions of her family and herself were cloaked in anonymity. Lee would quote from “Private Document No. 17, Life History No. 1” as if it was just another nameless, faceless piece of sociological data.” 
Dr. Lee’s own personal life also shows through in her feminist spin on racial and cultural assimilation. In Lee’s eyes, forcing Chinese immigrants to give up their cultural identity to a larger American one was a way to break with the feudalistic treatment of women that had for so long been an element of Chinese family structure.
“After graduating from high school in 1921 and briefly attending the local college in Butte, she married Ku Young Lee, a China-born engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania. She went with him to China after his graduation, living mainly in Canton for nearly a decade. The marriage eventually dissolved. In 1939, Rose Hum Lee returned to the United States with an adopted Chinese daughter, determined to pursue a career as a writer, teacher, and social worker…
Lee’s marriage and life in China had been a torment for her. She was unable to conceive a child, and her husband’s family constantly criticized her failure to carry out what they felt was a woman’s reproductive duty. Her final break with her husband and return to America can be seen not only as a repudiation of what she understood as the traditional roles of Chinese womanhood but also as an idiosyncratic attempt at Americanization. Lee’s commitment to the assimilation cycle was reaffirmed as she left behind everything negative that she associated with China. The path from China to America, for Lee, was the same path from traditional women’s work to a modern, emancipated womanhood.” 
The correspondence between her and Dr. Cadbury, however, seems to veer slightly from Dr. Yu’s interpretation. Dr. Cadbury and Dr. Lee could have met during any point during her ten year stint in Canton, and likely met several times because they existed in the same small privileged Anglophone circles. However, it is most likely that they spent the most time together from 1937-1939, the period of Dr. Lee’s involvement in the Canton Red Cross Women’s War Relief program headed up by none other than director of the Canton Red Cross, William Warder Cadbury.
The letter to Dr. Cadbury highlight many things I did not know about Mrs. Lee including that she was active in Friend’s circles, AFSC particularly. The most interesting part of this letter is her note concerning Japanese attacks. Here is the letter and the excerpt:
“I have been wondering about the situation in Hong Kong, as the radio reports come through. If the Japanese take this port, many of our friends are affected including my husband and my family. I hope they have all gone elsewhere for safety.”
Although this does not necessarily disprove Dr. Yu’s point, it certainly portrays Dr. Lee and her (former) husband’s relationship in a different light. At what could have been the apogee of her dislike of Ku Young Lee and his family, she appears concerned for his safety and the safety of his family. She maintains the affinal terms that once bounded the two’s relationship; in this letter he is still her husband and his family still her family.
This alternate perspective suggests any number of things, from a simple difference in audience (Dr. Yu’s work is based on letters from Dr. Lee to her daughter while this letter to a friend addresses a very different perspective) to possibly more important conclusions such as a stronger continued relationship between Dr. Lee and her former husband. In the end, I haven’t read enough of her papers to directly draw these conclusions. Despite this, I think this letter is an interesting addendum to Dr. Lee’s body of papers, and I sent off an e-mail to the UCLA library to see if they want a scan of it.
 Henry Yu, Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 126
 Ibid., 129-130