Dr. C. Gee Wo

Dear Liza,

I love researching history! Since my story takes place in 1903 Portland, I am getting to know about people who lived here then, and how things were for them. One thing that was really different was that there were laws against some people living here. These were called Exclusion Laws.

But life usually finds a way, as in the case of Dr. C. Gee Wo, a real Chinese person I have learned about and put into my story. Dr. Wo was from China and was an herbal doctor, using teas and herbal medicines to help make people better. He studied for many years, in China and America, to be good at his profession. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where he had a popular practice for eleven years, from 1889 to 1900.

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Dr. Wo’s ad in Portland newspapers, 1900 to 1910

During that time, he married a white lady name C. DeWitt (I can’t find her first name anywhere, just her first initial. Maybe Caroline? Celestine? Charlotte?) In 1900, they moved to Portland, Oregon, and Dr. Wo opened his herbal medicine practice.

At that time, the Exclusion Laws said Chinese people couldn’t own property, so Chinese needed to rent apartments, mostly in the neighborhood on the west side of the river. But Dr. Wo’s wife was white, so she could buy property where they wanted. They bought a small house, and, when business was better, built a bigger house next door.

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His ad from 1910 to 1920

As the years went on, Dr. Wo became a respected member of not just the Chinese community, but of the city of Portland. He donated to victims of the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. He contributed to local causes and invested in businesses. He helped the city grow.

Dr. Wo retired about 1915, but stayed active in the community at least until 1921, when he made a large contribution to the local Community Chest fund. I haven’t found any information about him after that time, but I will keep looking. Being a history detective is exciting!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

10 thoughts on “Dr. C. Gee Wo”

  1. Found your blog and the clippings on Chequong Gee Leo Wo (b. 1864) and they proved quite helpful in cataloguing a later edition of his “Things Chinese” (1926) which his Company Chinese Medicine issued with testimonials on a regular basis. Although Ancestry and other sites claim his death as 1921 (appear to actually refer to a Sam Gee Woo who immigrated into Astoria before 1884, and lived in Arizona) — the testimonials and accounts within the book clearly indicate he was still living as of 1926, and his wife Sarah Saide Celestine Starbuck (1868-1927) has a headstone, and appears to have passed 5 years after her mother, who lived with them at the house on 291 San Rafael St. (23 NE San Rafael). Thanks for the assist. He did manage to win a case in Nebraska with a ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court in 1893 reversing decision that he was practicing medicine without a license from the State since he was unable to obtain said license.

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    1. Hello,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I am pleased my research was able to help you, and your information has helped me better understand Dr. Wo, as well. Do you know where the good doctor and his wife are buried? I would love to give them my respects.

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      1. Well — therein lies the rub as they say. “Sadie Leo” is buried at the following with nice large headstone:

        Sadie Leo
        BIRTH 1868
        DEATH 1927 (aged 58–59)
        BURIAL
        Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery
        Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon, USA
        PLOT Sec 35, Lot 62, Grave 2N
        MEMORIAL ID 64694848 · View Source

        But, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d never find it. Dr. Wo’s grave is unregistered as far as I can find, and like I explained someone has incorrectly attributed his death to 1921, rather than sometime later, but it had to have been before 1930. Still contemporary newspaper account by his daughter has him present at birth of her baptism in New York in 1924 as an adult, birth of her child “Kenneth” in 1925 with newspaper clipping specifically mentioning presence of the grandfather, and that’s all I know. Household had a LOT of people living in the same place. The Chinese Medicine Co. continued up through the 1950’s. She is buried near her mother:

        Celestine “Guie” Tongue Cooke
        BIRTH 28 Feb 1898
        DEATH 10 Jul 1971 (aged 73)
        BURIAL
        Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery
        Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon, USA
        PLOT Sec 35, Lot 62, Grave 3N
        MEMORIAL ID 55584009 · View Source

        Good luck,

        Kol

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      2. Hooray! I live a few blocks from Lone Fir Cemetery and walk through it often. I will use your info and my map of the place to find Sadie‘s and their daughter‘s graves. Thanks so much!

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      3. Hello Kol,
        I walked over and visited Sadie and Celestine’s graves. I also saw the grave of Henry, “Son of Dr. And Mrs. C.G. W. Leo, born August 27, 1903, Died August 29, 1903.” Poor little guy, just two days old. Celestine would have been just five years old.
        Thanks again for getting in touch.
        Judy

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      4. Hello again Kol,
        I would like to write an update in my blog about learning more about Dr. Wo and his family. May I use your name and details you told me in my blog?

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      5. Sure, any time. It’s not like my name or business are hidden anywhere — believe me. I would be curious if anyone has an answer to the non-existence of a headstone, why no one has really recognized the incompatibility of the dates vis-a-vis his death. I.e. — he could not be present for the birth of a grandchild in 1925, seeing patients, and writing letters if the 1921 date was believed. Curious as to the burial, but perhaps the Chinese-American community in Portland would have a more sufficient explanation.
        Kol

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    2. Hello Kol,
      Looking on Ancestry, it seems Sarah Starbuck was Sadie’s aunt, not her mother.In visiting the cemetery, I can see that Sarah and her brother Hezekiah are buried together right by Sadie and her kids, Guie, and little Henry. It seems Guie married a fellow named William F. Cooke (her name became Cooke) who was 20 years older than her.

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      1. Yeah — I wondered about that as they both had the name Sarah Starbuck, and there was indeed confusion over the whole thing. Still wonder what happened to Chequong Gee Leo Wo (b. 1864).

        Kol

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