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Pauline Woo Tsui


photo of Pauline Woo Tsui

Pauline Woo Tsui was born in Nanjing, China in 1920, during a time when women were second-class citizens. She believed it was essential that girls in China were properly educated. Pauline graduated from the McTyre High School, and earned a BA in Education from St. Johns University in Shanghai.

World War II forced drastic changes in life, as Pauline fled from her home to escape the Japanese occupation. With few resources, she made her way on a one-month journey to Chongqing where she lived for three years enduring many hardships. When the war ended, Pauline secured passage on a boat sailing from China to the United States. As her father was born in Hawaii, she entered the United States for the first time as an American citizen.

Pauline settled in New York where she earned a MA in Music Education from Columbia University. Her plans to establish schools in Shanghai were halted by the Communist Revolution in China. Instead, she moved to Washington, DC where she met and married T.L. Tsui, a senior diplomatic officer for the Nationalist Chinese government. Pauline focused on supporting her husband's career and on raising her children. To help support her family, Pauline worked at the United States Army Map Service (now the Defense Mapping Agency Topographic Center) for 30 years.

It was during this time; Pauline encountered discrimination against Chinese women. She observed in times of government downsizing that it was always women and minorities whose pay was reduced and titles removed. This became a driving force for Pauline. She was promoted to the position of Federal Women's Program Manager at her agency where she advocated for the equal treatment of 700 female employees. She also co-founded a chapter of the organization for Federally Employed Women (FEW) and founded a child care center for agency employees. Her job taught her that organizing was the key to gaining equality. She joined the Organization of Chinese Americans and served as Vice President, expanding her understanding of organizing in the community. The United Nations declared 1975 as the International Women's Year and Pauline was named to the Advisory Board of the State Department.

In 1992, she moved to Montgomery County Maryland. In 1977, Pauline co-founded the Organization of Chinese American Women (OCAW), an organization dedicated to empowering Chinese women through education and training. OCAW continues to pursue its mission and now has chapters across the United States. Pauline was the Executive Director from 1983 to 2007. Under her leadership, OCAW established scores of training sessions for professional and non-professional Chinese women including the Chinese American Women Educational Equity Program, the Presidential Classroom Scholarship Program, the Rural Scholarship program for Chinese girls in rural China, the International Young Piano Scholarship Award, English Training for new immigrants, professional training for new immigrants, and the OCAW Asian American Leadership Development Program for senior management for both the public and private sectors.

She passed away on November 27, 2018.

"The many equalities that women fought for in the last century, are now the opportunity for young women to choose a new direction for the women's movement. I do hope young Chinese-American women will seize upon this opportunity to map out a trajectory where all women and men can live and work happily and equally together."

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2019.

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