Herstory Exhibit Reveals Legal History of Chinese American Women

The stories of Chinese American women who prevailed in legal battles in American courts are the focus of the traveling exhibit “Herstory 2: The Legal History of Chinese American Woman” now showing in Ekstrom Library through mid-October.

The exhibit features rare photographs and case descriptions of efforts by Chinese-American women to gain legal standing in the U.S. It is shown on the tall display tables in Ekstrom Library’s east side first floor and was launched to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese holiday.

Outline of a woman on a yellow background with images of Chinese American women inside the outline. Title is Herstory 2: The Legal History of Chinese American Woman.

Beginning in 1852, the exhibit documents women who fought for equal treatment in the eyes of the law, for citizenship and the right to public education. At a time of public debate around immigration and national identity, this exhibit sheds light on the brave women who fought for their rights, and, in doing so, helped shape a brighter future for younger generations.

Black and white images of numerous Chinese women standing or sitting in front of a sepia-colored collage of public buildings and courtrooms.

The women profiled in the exhibit cleared a path for Chinese American women to gain basic legal standing in the US, and according to the curator’s notes, disproved the ancient Chinese saying that “Only unpleasant endings emerge from lawsuits.“

Exhibit materials are drawn from the personal collection of Dr. Chang C. Chen, a U.S. attorney and author who was born in Taiwan who has also served as a Taiwan senator and television host in Hong Kong. She has long advocated for the rights of Taiwanese and worked pro bono to bring legal challenges in support of Chinese Americans.

This exhibition is the second of the “Herstory” series Dr. Chen curated. While the collection started as a small personal project, the exhibit has toured and appeared in international libraries and museums in Taiwan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii, and New York, among other cities. When she started this project, a search in the index of the Library of Congress for the phrase “Chinese American Women” yielded not a single result, now thanks to Herstory, tens of thousands of entries exist.

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