Dr. Margaret “Mom” Chung (1889-1959) was the country’s first female Chinese-American physician, practicing in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. During World War II she “adopted” more than a thousand “sons,” most of them American servicemen, mentoring them, sending them presents and sharing meals with them during and after the war. She was also one of the earliest supporters of women in the Navy. When one of her “sons” became a congressman, he filed the first legislation to create a female branch of the Navy in response to a phone call from “Mom Chung.”
Lillie “Firebelle Lil” Hitchcock Coit (1843-1929) was a well-known volunteer firefighter and the benefactor for the construction of Coit Tower. At the age of 15, she became involved in San Francisco’s volunteer fire department, eventually becoming an honorary member of Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5. Coit was also an avid gambler, and she smoked cigars and wore trousers long before it was socially acceptable for women to do so. Upon her death she left one-third of her estate to the City of San Francisco “for the purpose of adding beauty to the city which I have always loved.” The money was used to build Coit Tower. Coit also commissioned the statue of three firefighters at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park.
Mary Ellen Pleasant (c1814-1904): A leader in the abolitionist movement who was known as the mother of civil rights in California, Mary Ellen Pleasant brought the Underground Railroad to California and led a successful campaign in the 1860s to desegregate the streetcars of San Francisco. Her lawsuit set a precedent in the California Supreme Court that influenced later civil rights cases. Pleasant arrived in San Francisco in the early 1850s after fleeing prosecution in the East for helping slaves escape to freedom. An entrepreneurial businesswoman, she eventually owned a chain of laundries and boardinghouses, bought real estate and worked as a matchmaker. She continued to help runaway slaves by employing them at her businesses.