for others. In 1905, women's suffrage (the right to vote) was 15 years in the future.

Berg, an early publicist of the women's movement, called Faith's accomplishment "amazing," adding, "coming as she does from a nation whose women have dwelt in dense ignorance of all that pertains to modern thought and living." At the time, less than 2% of Chinese women were taught to read.

According to the Chinese historian Thomas Chinn in his book Bridging the Pacific: San Francisco Chinatown and Its People, Faith was sent to San Francisco from Canton "entrusted to the care of a cousin." Her parents hoped she would be educated and brought up in America. According to Chinn, "they expected that she would find better opportunities in [America] and would eventually send them money to help them in their old age." At the time, Faith was 12 years old.

Mrs. E. J. Nickerson and her daughter Agnes had recently moved back to San Francisco from Canton, where they had taught English. Agnes took an English teaching position in San Francisco's Chinatown when she discovered the young girl. She brought Faith
home with her to work part-time as a domestic helper, and, at the same time, Faith was mentored and home-schooled by the Nickersons.

Professor Judy Yung, in her book Unbound Feet, A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, relates that the 12-year-old Faith was eventually adopted by the Nickersons. "Faith" was added to Sai So when she was baptized in the Methodist church.

Mrs. Nickerson told Berg that she noticed Faith was "very dexterous and she evinced decided mechanical talent" and did "all the odd bits of tinkering necessary in a household which usually fell to the lot of a man."

Faith also had a Chinese cousin in San Francisco who was a dentist. During her "leisure hours" she spent a great deal of time in his dental parlor and, according to Berg, "it was there that her interest in dental science was aroused." Her cousin encouraged the young girl, and his wife suggested that Faith should pursue a dental career.
Page 1
By Daniel Demers, contributing writer
Continued Page 2  
Courtesy of:

December 16, 2013 -- When Faith Sai So Leong graduated from the San Francisco College of Physicians and Surgeons (P & S, now the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry) in 1905, she received "rousing applause by her classmates." She was the only woman in the class of 40 and, according to a 1907 article by Ruth Berg of the San Francisco Sunday Call, "her fellow students were her loyal friends."

The P & S yearbook in 1905 claimed she was "universally esteemed and respected" by both classmates and professors. But something else happened that fateful June day.

Faith became the first Chinese woman to receive a degree in dentistry. It was a monumental achievement for the young woman who had been in the U.S. a scant 11 years. She was a pioneering part of the emerging women's movement -- helping clear the way

Dr. Faith Sai So Leong: The first Chinese woman dentist
Dr. Faith Sai So Leong.
Image courtesy of Edwin
and Eric Owyang