Update on Dr. Wo

Dear Liza,

About two years ago, I wrote to you about a Chinese herbalist who had worked and lived in Portland around 1903. His name was Dr. C. Gee Wo.

Doctor Wo’s ad from the early 1900s

Back then, I learned that the doctor was from China and had studied herbal medicine both there and in Nebraska. He married a woman named Saide Celestine Starbuck and then they moved to Portland, Oregon, where he ran offices and sold medicines until he retired around 1921.

Last summer I went in a walking tour of Chinatown here in Portland, and learned that Dr. Wo had been very well known in the city, and had a clientele that included both Chinese and White people.

And then, this morning, it got even more interesting. Kol Shaver, a collector and dealer of antique and rare books in Vancouver, Washington, contacted me. Kol has been looking for information about Dr. Wo to help categorize some of his writings, and found information in my old blog! It made me ridiculously happy to be useful.

Kol runs an on-line shop at zephyrbook@gmail.com and was also able to give me more information about Dr. Wo.

Dr. Wo issued a series of books entitled “Things Chinese” through his Company Chinese Medicine, which had testimonials about his medical treatments. The testimonials within the book indicate he was still living as of 1926. He was also present at the baptism of his grandson Kenneth, born to his daughter Celestine (her mother’s middle name) in 1925.

Kol told me that there is still no information about the Doctor’s burial, but Mrs. Wo and their daughter are buried right here in our own Lone Fir Cemetery, even giving me the section and plot numbers! I could go visit!

Paying my respects to Mrs. Wo….

But, as Kol told me, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d never find it. Mrs. Wo’s tombstone reads “Sadie Leo, 1868-1927”. Maybe because of anti-Chinese prejudice, they chose not to use their surname “Wo”. Close by is Celestine “Guie” Tongue Cooke, their daughter, who was born in 1898 and died in 1971.

Their daughter Celestine…

Also nearby is the smaller grave marker of Henry Leo, a son, who was born on August 27, 1903, and only lived two days. I mourned for his parents and little Guie, who would have been just five years old when she lost her baby brother.

And little Henry, who only lived for two days.

I am so happy to have been in contact with someone who is interested in Dr. Wo.


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.

4 thoughts on “Update on Dr. Wo”

  1. Evening Judy,
    Hate to tell you but that photo is very, very old for the old store which closed in 2006. Moved to an antique mall a block away which burned out in 2007. I’ve been by appointment only, and then exhibiting at 12-14 book fairs and trade shows a year until 2020 and the pandemic.

    Thanks for the thought,



  2. Greetings
    I have done research on Dr. Wo’s Deaf daughter Celestine “Guie” Tongue Wo Leo (Delglio) (Cooke) and have communicated with her grandson. See Deafwomeninhistory.wordpress.com. This is fascinating!
    A copy of Things Chinese, I believe, is in the Oregon Historical Society. A few things I came across:

    Dr. Wo was born in 1864 in the Sun Ning part of the Shandong providence in China where Confucius was said to have been born. He was born into a family which had long been involved in the field of medicine. The expectation was that he would be a doctor from birth, and he went on to Tai Ye Yuen Medical College for eight years of training where he graduated with high honors. After three years of medical practice in a hospital, Leo “thought he could do better in another country, and visited America.”

    Because the Shandong providence was on the coast, it is said there was a greater influx of western people and ideas. Western hospitals were established there as early as 1843.

    Many census reports state that Leo came to the United States in 1875. It may be that as a child he traveled to the United States and then returned to China for his years of education. By 1884, Leo was in the United States and attended the opening of the New Orleans Expo “in the company of high [Chinese] government officials.” He had traveled around quite a bit after arriving in the states, living for a time in Denver, Colorado. In 1889, he moved to Omaha, Nebraska. The next year his father died and Leo likely returned home. During that year, his son (Suey) was born. While the date of his marriage to his Chinese wife, Chin See is uncertain, she died within a year of giving birth. By 1893, Leo was back in Nebraska where it was recorded that he had married Sarah (Sadie) Starbuck.

    Sadie was born in 1868. In 1880, she was living with her grandparents in Iowa and her grandfather is listed as a farmer who had been born in North Carolina.
    Both Sadie’s grandfather and father were physicians so it was likely Sarah met Dr. Wo through her father.

    It looks as if Dr. Wo Leo was convicted of practicing medicine without a license in the state of Nebraska, but that conviction when it went to the state supreme court was found in error and remanded. It appears that there may have been a controversy regarding the use of traditional Chinese medicine as the court mentions it could not favor a “particular school of medicine.”

    According to a booklet written by Dr. Wo, he moved to Oregon after her birth “owing to business interests [there]…and also being connected with a Chinese wholesale drug company there.”

    Apparently his house on 23 NE San Rafael is called the Dr C Go Wo House and was designed for him with some oriental influences.

    Thank you for all the information you have posted here on Dr Wo as well. It was helpful in my research!


    1. Wow! Thanks so much for all the new information on Dr. Wo and his family. It is niCe to know that there are more history buffs out there. I hope you have a wonderful day.


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