Gem State Roundup

Bronze statue honoring Chinese American Polly Bemis to be unveiled in Boise

By: - August 10, 2021 4:12 am
Polly Bemis

Polly Bemis was a Chinese American immigrant who moved to Idaho around 1871. She was a gardener, healer and operated a boarding house. She’s pictured here on her Salmon River Ranch. (Archival Idaho Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library)

Some of Idaho’s political leaders will join the Idaho Chinese Organization at noon today on the Idaho Capitol Building’s steps to unveil a bronze statue of Polly Bemis, a Chinese American immigrant and pioneer who called Idaho home for decades.

Bemis, who was born in northern China in 1853, came to Idaho around 1871. She worked as a boarding house operator, goldsmith, seamstress and nurse while settling in central Idaho, according to the application to designate her ranch on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gov. Brad Little, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, state Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise,  and other notable Idaho figures will be present, as well as Priscilla Wegars, who wrote a biography about Bemis titled “The Life and Times of a Chinese American Pioneer.”

Students who won the Idaho Chinese Organization’s statewide Polly Bemis essay contests also will read their works during the dedication ceremony.

“Chinese Americans, such as pioneer Polly Bemis, were integral to Idaho history,” said Chew in a press release. “They weren’t outsiders, but helped build the state we know and love today. They belonged, and so do we. People from different cultures living in the same community to work together, like Polly and her husband, is the way to solve problems and continue to contribute to society. Her legacy must not be forgotten, and this is a way to not only further her story, but encourage others to learn about her contributions to Idaho.”

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Christina Lords
Christina Lords

Christina Lords is the editor-in-chief of the Idaho Capital Sun and has been a professional journalist covering local and state government since graduating from the University of Idaho in 2009. A Pocatello native, Lords is a fifth-generation Idahoan who served as a reporter at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Post Register in Idaho Falls and served as assistant editor for the Idaho Press in Nampa. She also led the Idaho Statesman in Boise for two years before turning to nonprofit journalism.

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