Subservience by women was their accepted lot in life throughout most of
Korean history. The doctrine of Three Obediences—to father in childhood, to
the husband after marriage and to sons in old age—prevailed to the end of
the Yi Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 to 1910. This traditional social
bondage was only slightly modified during the ensuing 35 years of Japanese
The faith taught by Christian missionaries, allowed into the Hermit Kingdom
late in the 19th century, and the schools they founded challenged old
Confucian mores and the authoritarian ordering of life. From this crucible
came women who had learned to work together in schools and churches and who
had joined prominently in the Korean Independence Declaration Movement of
March 1919. Although the Movement was suppressed by the Japanese military,
the ferment continued. With Allied liberation in August 1945, hitherto
inhibited talents of Korean women blossomed.
Despite the Korean War that devastated much of their country, women have
continued to mobilize public support for modernizing their society. The
Constitution reflects their ideas and determination. No longer are girls
given during childhood in arranged marriages. Widows now can remarry.
Property rights, divorce, access to schooling and entry into the professions
all have come with a rush, mostly in the last three decades.
Dr. TAI-YOUNG LEE—Mrs. Y. H. CHYUNG in private life—is both a product of
this formative period for Korea's women and one of its architects. Born in
1914 into a family stirred by liberalizing influences, she was able to
attend the new schools for girls, graduating in home economics from Ehwa
Womans University in 1936. During the five years her husband was imprisoned
by the Japanese, she supported their family as a seamstress and a teacher.
Liberation afforded her the opportunity to study law at Seoul National
University where she earned her degree at the age of 38 while raising four
children; she later earned her doctorate there.
The first woman in Korea to become a lawyer and a judge, Dr. LEE naturally
came to lead in achieving women's rights. Since 1956 she has operated a
private non-profit Legal Aid Center providing free legal counsel in
particular to illiterates and poor women. In 1963 her years of persistent
persuasion and of channeling the concern of women's groups, resulted in
enactment of the Law Concerning Judgments of Family Affairs and
establishment of the implementing Seoul Family Court. For residents of the
capital city and environs, the Court seeks, through mediation, rational
solutions to complaints before passing any judgments.
From her school days, amidst all the vicissitudes that have beset her land,
Dr. LEE has sustained an unwaveringly purposeful commitment to enabling
Korean women to become full citizens. While championing their freedom from
ancient thralldom and pursuing her profession, she has remained a
conscientious wife and mother and inspiration for the womanhood of her
In electing TAI YOUNG LEE to receive the 1975 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes her effective service
to the cause of equal juridical rights for the liberation of Korean women.