Tye Leung Shulze

Tye Leung Shulze was the first Chinese American woman to cast a ballot in a primary election when she voted in 1912.

Tye Leung was born in California in 1887 to a family of Chinese immigrants. At 14, she escaped an arranged marriage in Montana by joining a Presbyterian Mission in San Francisco. There, she learned English and became an interpreter, helping the mission rescue trafficked Chinese women from local brothels.

In 1910 she was hired as a translator at Angel Island Immigration Station; Leung was the first Chinese American to pass the civil service exam and become a government employee. Here, she met Charles Shulze, an immigration inspector, and they fell in love.

Charles Shulze was white. At the time, interracial marriages were illegal in California. They went to Washington state to get legally married, knowing that the intense racism and prejudice from their fellow employees would force them to lose their jobs.

To support their family of four children, Tye worked as a night shift telephone operator. Charles was a mechanic and repairman until he died in 1935. Tye continued to be an interpreter, social worker, and a community icon in San Francisco’s Chinatown until she died in 1972.