“It’s a really, really transnational story,” she added.
Yamei Kin was born in 1864 in the eastern Chinese city of Ningpo, now called Ningbo, to a Chinese pastor and his wife, according to an annotated bibliography of Kin’s life that was published in 2016 by the SoyInfo Center in California.
When Kin was 2, her parents died of cholera during an epidemic, and she was adopted by Divie Bethune and Juana McCartee, an American missionary couple. She was raised in China and Japan, where her adoptive father worked for the Education Ministry.
Her parents moved to New York, and she went to high school for a year in Rye, N.Y. At 16, Kin enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of New York under the name Y. May King, according to Roth’s book.
Researchers believe she altered her name to hide her ethnicity because she was frequently reminded that she was one of few Chinese women studying in the United States at the time.
“Workmen in the street would often hurl abuse at me, and even my fellow woman students were not particularly enthusiastic about me,” she was quoted as saying in “My Sister China” (2002), a memoir by Jaroslav Prusek, a Czech Sinologist who knew her in the 1930s.
She graduated in 1885 at the top of her class, however, and published an article two years later in the New York Medical Journal that extolled the perks of “photomicrography,” or photography through microscopes, for medical research.
During the 1880s and 1890s, she worked as a medical missionary in China and Japan. She married Hippolytus Laesola Amador Eça da Silva, a Macau-born musician of Portuguese and Spanish descent, in 1894.