September 1st, 1884

Chinese American Child Denied Admission to Public School in San Francisco

During the week of September 1, 1884, Joseph and Mary Tape, immigrants from China who had lived in the United States for over a decade, attempted to enroll their eight-year-old, American-born daughter, Mamie Tape, in San Francisco’s Spring Valley School. Principal Jennie Hurley denied the Tapes’ request on the basis of their race, and State Education Superintendent William Welcher supported that decision. Welcher justified the denial in part by noting that even the California Constitution described Chinese-Americans as “dangerous to the well-being of the state.”

In response to the school’s refusal to admit their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Tape sued. On January 9, 1885, a California Superior Court judge ruled in the Tapes’ favor, holding that denial of admission would be a violation of California state law and the United States Constitution. The state appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling and held that Chinese students had a right to public education; the decision did not, however, prohibit the creation of segregated schools.

In response, the California legislature passed a bill requiring public school districts to create separate schools for Chinese-American students and to prohibit Chinese-American students from attending schools attended by white children. When Mamie arrived for school after the California Supreme Court's decision, she was denied entry because her vaccinations were not up to date. By the time the Tape family was able to comply with the vaccination requirements, a new school had been opened for Chinese-American students and Mamie was forced to enroll there.

The Mamie Tape case occurred in the midst of extensive discriminatory treatment of Chinese-American children in California's public schools. Until 1880, Asian-American students were forbidden from attending public schools altogether. The law excluding Chinese-American students from public schools attended by whites, which was passed in the wake of the Mamie Tape case, was enforced until the late 1920s.