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The 8-Year-Old Chinese-American Girl Who Helped Desegregate Schools—in 1885

May 13, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Seven decades before Brown v. Board, Mamie Tape’s bid to desegregate San Francisco schools went to the California Supreme Court.

Nearly 70 years before Topeka’s , which chronicles the Tape family story. So Jeu Dip got a job working as a house servant for a dairy rancher, and later graduated to driving the milk-delivery wagon.

In 1875, Jeu Dip married Mary McGladery, a young woman who had immigrated from the Shanghai region in 1868, when she was 11. After a few months in Chinatown, during which she may have been forced to work in a brothel, she had been taken in by the Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society and raised in a home for destitute girls. Renamed after the matron of the home, she had been thoroughly schooled in English and Westernized manners. Mary and Jeu Dip were married in a Christian ceremony; he took the English name Joseph, and they both adopted the German surname Tape.

By the late 1870s, Joseph was operating a successful delivery business, along with other ventures, and had become a well-regarded businessman in both the white and Chinese communities. He and Mary settled in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco (then called Black Point), an area with few other Chinese residents. Mamie was born in 1876, followed by two more children, Frank and Emily.

READ MORE: History of San Francisco’s Chinatown

The era of Chinese exclusion

The Tapes’ rise from young immigrants to prosperous middle-class San Franciscans took place against a backdrop of growing anti-Chinese sentiment, and even violence. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration for a period of 10 years and prevented all Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens.

In San Francisco, Chinese children (even American-born) had long been denied access to public schools. Despite a law passed by the California state legislature in 1880 that entitled all children in the state to public education, social custom and local school-board policy still kept Chinese youngsters from attending the city’s white schools.

READ MORE: Chinese Exclusion Act

A view of markets in Chinatown, San Francisco, in the 19th century.

Battling for the right to public education

Having lived among white neighbors for so long, it seemed natural to Mary and Joseph Tape to send their eldest daughter to the primary school in their neighborhood, rather than to the mission-run schools in Chinatown. After Hurley barred Mamie’s …read more


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