I’ve made an executive decision on the next Soo-hoo child and decided to treat Clara as the oldest daughter. This is because Clara’s younger sister does so in her memoirs, calling her “1st daughter” (Sung, 291, cited in Chinese Historical Society). However, Western records suggest her sister Paulina may have been older than her, and there are even references to her sister Nettie being born only three months after her. The explanation for this discrepancy is most likely incomplete records – Paulina’s birth year has been guessed at from her school records – as well as variations in translation from Asian systems of measuring age to Western ones. Since I don’t know the original Asian-system birth dates for anyone, I’ll take a family memoir as being the truth on birth order: first Clara, then Paulina, then Nettie, and so will post about Clara first, followed by Nettie (Paulina I will save for later).
Miss Clara Soo-hoo (司徒如坤, pinyin Sītú Rǔkūn, Jyutping Si1tou4 Jyu4kwan1) was born on 17 April 1894 (but possibly as early as 1891) in Hunan, China, the oldest daughter of Presbyterian minister Rev. Nam Art Soo Hoo. Clara was born after her father’s second return to China, during the time when he was ordained in Canton. She came to the United States around 1895 with her parents, older brother Peter, and two younger sisters Paulina and Nettie.
As we saw with the Chan family, the Soo-hoo children, especially the girls, were active in church activities and performances. As an example, the Los Angeles Herald from 27 December 1901 details a Christmas party at Trinity Methodist Church which was attended by three Soo-hoo girls (the article refers to them as “Class Soo-hoo”). These girls were Clara, Anna (probably Nettie, as her full name was Antoinette, but possibly just a cousin), and Mansie – the name of one of Clara’s sisters, but about 4 years too early to be her, so perhaps it was a cousin. They wore “native attire” and sang something called “Shepherd Song” (Los Angeles Herald, 27 Dec 1901, 11). Clara also integrated into secular society, attending school in San Rafael, California. She caused a fire in her chemistry class in 1910 (San Francisco Call, 5 Feb 1910, 19), but still managed to graduate from San Rafael High School in June of 1911 (Marin Journal, 1 Jun 1911, 8). She was headed to the University of California after graduation (Marin County Tocsin, 22 Jul 1911, 1), something that her father apparently got grief about from those who opposed higher education for women, according to Clara’s younger sister’s memoirs (Sung, 291).
Unlike her younger siblings, Clara moved out of the family home while she attended classes at Berkeley, living with another student at 2221 Dwight Way (10 June 1912, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 718). This may have been because the family home at 2116 Channing Way was not yet in the family. In her first two years at UC Berkeley, she became extremely active in the Western Section of the Chinese Students’ Alliance, and the Chinese Students’ Monthly magazine is full of references to her club activities. She was officially elected to membership of the CSA in June of 1912 (10 June 1912, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 718) and became the Chinese secretary of the very first California CSA in May of 1913 (10 May 1913, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 487). The split from the Western Section as a whole was needed due to the increasing number of Chinese students specifically in universities in California, and Clara was involved enough in local CSA affairs to be elected as an officer, indicating her dedication to the organization.
Clara’s involvement with the CSA both in California and the greater Western Section continued through her junior and senior years of college. She continued to serve as secretary in the greater CSA Western Section through 1914, writing articles for the Chinese Students’ Monthly to report on section activities for those in the Midwestern and Eastern sections (10 Dec 1913, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 164; 10 Feb 1914, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 330). She also became president of the California Club, and at the California Club’s event for Chinese National Day in December of 1914, both she and her future husband Ping Ling gave speeches, although I don’t know that a welcome address and a speech on the history of the Chinese Revolution is really conducive to love at first sight (Jun 1914, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 629; Dec 1914, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 183). She attended conferences through the YMCA/YWCA, which were big supporters of international students in the United States, and gave speeches at some of them (Mar 1915, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 406).
Clara graduated from UC Berkeley in 1915, earning both her Bachelor’s in German and Education (UC Register, 1914-15, 13) as well as her MA, with a thesis entitled “The Development of Education in Modern China”. By the end of her senior year, she was not only president of the California CSA, but a member of the Cosmopolitan Club, a nation-wide group of international university students’ clubs (1916 Blue and Gold, 287). She remained active in the CSA for a few months after her graduation, arranging a welcome program for 55 new Chinese student arrivals in September of 1916 (Nov 1916, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 58; 19 Oct 1916, The Continent, 1361). She wouldn’t stay in America for long, however, as she had accepted a position at Canton Christian College as the assistant superintendent of the women’s college (The Continent; 19 Oct 1916, Marin Journal, 5). This was no surprise to anyone, as “[s]he was reckoned the most brilliant of the U. C. alien students” (Marin Journal). She sailed to Shanghai in October of 1916 (Jan 1917, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 174) and later headed to Canton, where the UC Berkeley Directory of Graduates knew she was living but apparently did not receive any communications from her, as her address is “unverified” in their 1916 edition (ancestry.com copy).
Clara stayed at Canton Christian College until 1919 (2 Dec 1959, New York Times, 43), involving herself in the moral education of both the women at the school and the larger surrounding society. A letter she signed which appeared in the North-China Herald in early 1917 railed against the practice of gambling on ocean liners, something Clara had witnessed on her trip over to China the previous October (3 Feb 1917, North-China Herald, 232).
She married Ping Ling while in China sometime between 1917 and 1922, and they had three children together. P. Ling worked both as an educator and in government service, and the family moved around a lot. From Canton, Clara and Ping moved to Tiantsin (Tianjin) where they both taught, Clara teaching English literature (2 Dec 1959, New York Times, 43). This is where their children were born, according to ship’s manifests (ancestry.com copy). Tientsin is near Beijing, where P. Ling eventually worked in the government. After 1927, the family moved again to Nanking (Nanjing), where Chiang Kai-Shek had moved the government’s capital. P. Ling would eventually be appointed the Republic of China’s minister to Cuba, and in early 1930, the family would leave from Shanghai to take up the post in Havana. It was an extremely long and probably grueling journey. The trip from Nanking to Shanghai was over 300 kilometers, which they probably covered via train some time in late December 1929. The next leg of the journey was the ocean liner from Shanghai to Los Angeles, California, which took 21 days – from January 3-24, 1930 (ancestry.com copy of the ship’s manifest). They spent a day in Los Angeles, and then took a train cross-country to New York to catch the ship that would take them on to Cuba (27 Jan 1930, Los Angeles Times, A5).
P. Ling would hold the Cuba ambassadorship for a while, and the family would travel to and from the country, sometimes together, sometimes in smaller groups. For example, in 1932, Clara and the children made a trip back to China, probably to visit family. They left Havana on February 1, 1932, and sailed to San Francisco, reaching it on the 16th (ship’s manifest). Although their stated destination was China, it seems likely that they debarked to visit the Soo-Hoo family still living in California, as a city directory from Oakland in 1933 turns up “Mrs. Clara Ling” living at the family home – 2116 Channing Way, Berkeley (ancestry.com copy). They were only visiting, however, and eventually went on to China, and then back to Cuba.
When her husband’s ambassadorship was over in 1935, the whole family returned to China via San Francisco (ship’s manifests here and here). The Republic of China government was in turmoil at this time under the dual pressures of the Japanese and the Communists, and the Ling family exodus from China was soon to follow. Clara’s two daughters left first, in February of 1941. They were headed to Blackstone, Virginia, where the older daughter attended Blackstone College for Girls – the younger daughter would attend Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania a few years later. Clara herself, along with her son, left in June of 1941 – she heading to Berkeley, her son heading to Palo Alto to begin classes at Stanford. According to the ship’s manifest, P. Ling was still working for the failing Republic of China government as the Minister of Finance, based in Chungking (Chongqing). He eventually immigrated to the United States as well.
Clara and her husband moved to New York City, where she was residing when she applied to become a naturalized citizen of the United States (ancestry.com copy). They lived at 619 W 140th Street, and Clara worked as a library assistant at Columbia Teachers College. The Lings moved to 501 W 123rd Street, and Clara retired from her library position in April of 1959. She died later that year of a cerebral hemorrage (2 Dec 1959, New York Times).