Mrs. Nickerson jumped in with financial assistance, and Faith matriculated with the 1905 class at P & S. It was the first time she had seen "the interior of an American schoolroom." Berg relates that "there were two other girls in the freshman class, but these soon dropped out," leaving Faith the lone female in the class. It was also the first time she associated with Americans and "during her first student days, her English was very wobbly," Berg wrote, but within short order her "natural ability soon tided her over grammatical obstacles." By the time of her graduation, other than a decided accent, her English was near perfect. She graduated in the top of her class.
In the context of the times, Dr. Leong's scholastic achievements were remarkable. Two years after she was born, in 1882 the U.S. Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade any further immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S. During the late 1860s, railroad barons had encouraged and enticed Chinese men (excluding their wives and children) to come to the U.S. to help build the western portion of the transcontinental railroad.
Dr. Leong had a stellar career as a dentist. After the 1906 earthquake, she temporarily moved her practice to Oakland while San Francisco rebuilt. In 1909, she married Nam Owyang, the son of the secretary to the Chinese Consul to San Francisco. The two met while she was on a vacation in Hong Kong. The couple had two sons, Eric and Edwin. And turn around was fair play -- a 1912 Tacoma Times newspaper article reported that Dr. Leong had taken Mrs. Nickerson in to live with her family and was providing for her "old benefactress."
On a clear May day in 1929, Dr. Leong was tragically killed in San Francisco's Chinatown when a runaway car slammed her against the wall of a building. Seconds before the impact, she had pushed her 11-year-old son Eric out of harm's way and took the full impact of the collision. The car crushed her leg and she bled out. Dr. Leong was 47.
During her brief life, she had lived the American dream. The young Chinese girl had moved from China to the U.S. She became the first Chinese woman to receive a dental degree and practice dentistry. She inspired her countrymen who had moved to America and proved to doubting Americans that the Chinese could compete with their best. Besides solving dental problems, the positive national publicity generated by the small Chinese woman began the healing process between two races -- Chinese and Caucasian. She was the predicate necessary for that healing to begin. Both her sons followed her in medical careers: Edwin became a physician and Eric, the son whose life she saved while sacrificing her own, became the chief clinical pharmacist at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
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Curtis EK. A Century of Smiles. San Francisco, CA: University of the Pacific School of Dentistry; 1995.
Hunter J. The Gospel of Gentility, American Women Missionaries in Turn-Of-The-Century China. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 1984.
Yung J. Unbound Feet, A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 1995.