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Susan Ahn Cuddy, Honoring a Can-Do Woman

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Susan Ahn Cuddy. Who is she and why do you care?

Susan Ahn Cuddy is a strong, empowered Korean American who was the first Asian American woman in the Navy. We’re honoring her during May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

¶¶ Be sure to check out how you can find and apply lessons from Susan Ahn Cuddy’s life to your own. Lessons are at the end of this blog.¶¶

Susan was born in 1915 in Los Angeles and died there 100 years later in 2015. During those 100 years, she achieved many firsts even though her ethnicity and gender meant roadblocks for her.

Let’s look back at Susan Ahn Cuddy’s inspiring life

Imagine this:

Susan stood on the dock, waiving until the ship became just a dot on the horizon. That ship was taking her father from Los Angeles Port to China.

“Come on Susan, Philip, Philson, Soorah. We must get back home. You’ll see your father again soon,” said their mother.

That was 1926 when Susan Ahn was 11 years old. She and her siblings did see their father, but only for brief periods of time for the rest of his life.

Twenty-four years earlier, in 1902, Susan’s parents, Dosan Ahn Changho and Helen Lee, were the first married Korean couple to immigrate to the US.

Part Susan’s Story, Part Her Parents’ Story

And although this is Susan’s story, her parents’ strong ties to Korea had a major influence on her life. In fact, Dosan boarded that ship to join the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, the Korean government in exile in Shanghai, China. He served briefly as its sixth President in mid-1926. At that time (and since 1910), Korea was a colony of the Empire of Japan. Dosan was an activist working for Korean independence.

Dosan was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned multiple times. His activism eventually led to his death in a Japanese hospital in Seoul. That was in 1938, three years before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the US entered WW2.

Susan and her siblings had often heard their father say, “Do your best to be good American citizens but never forget your Korean heritage.” So you can imagine how the 1941 attack impacted Susan—Japan had colonized Korea, killed her father, and now attacked America, her homeland.

What made her such a strong and inspiring women

Susan Ahn Cuddy

If you have faced prejudice in your life, make Susan Ahn Cuddy your touchstone.

Early in World War II, the Navy opened enrollment in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Susan applied for Navy Officer Candidate School, hoping to be part of the fight against Japan. OCS rejected her application because she was too “oriental.” That didn’t stop her. She reapplied and was allowed to enlist, becoming the first Asian-American woman in the Navy. 

Susan’s performance as an enlisted WAVES brought her to the attention of Navy officers who recommended she be admitted to OCS where she was once again successful. After officer training, she went to Atlanta where she served as the first female gunnery officer training Naval fighter pilots how to shoot down enemy aircraft.

¶¶ Scroll down for recipe celebrating Asian food.¶¶

Prejudice Continued but Susan Persisted

She often met resistance both as a female and an Asian. She recalled one of many incidents:

“A white male pilot I was training disobeyed my orders. I said, ‘Down here, you will shoot when I tell you to shoot.’”

After rising to the rank of lieutenant, she worked in the Office of Naval Intelligence where she faced more prejudice. Her supervisor did not trust her with classified materials. Eventually, working hard, she became a code-breaker.

Her experience as a code-breaker gave her the credentials to join the National Security Agency (NSA) after WW2. And during the Cold War, she oversaw 300 agents in NSA’s Russia section.

Susan Ahn CuddyFacing prejudice made her aware of prejudice against others

Susan faced and overcame prejudice against Asian-Americans and women. This may explain why she identified with Blacks in the segregated South. She often used “colored” bathrooms and drinking fountains to show support for those who had no choice. 

Honors for a life well lived

In 2003, the State Assembly of California of District 28 named Cuddy the Woman of the Year in honor of her commitment to public service.

On October 5, 2006 she received the American Courage Award from the Asian American Justice Center in Washington D.C.

She continued to be active at both Navy and Korean American events throughout her life. Numerous government bodies and nonprofits honored her in her later years.

If you’d like to learn more are Susan Ahn Cuddy’s inspiring life, click here for a brief video.

ABOUT THE ASIAN SALAD DRESSING RECIPE BELOW: One evening I raved to my friend, Diana Yoshikawa Paul, about her salad dressing. She replied, “It’s so simple. Here’s how you make it.” Below I’m sharing her recipe with you. It’s a delicious dressing as written. But you can to adapt it and make it your own. Consider adding a bit of minced fresh ginger or a tablespoon of room temperature peanut butter. It is lovely over cabbage slaw as well as lettuce. Enjoy.

Asian Salad Dressing
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Asian Salad Dressing

Simple salad dressing recipe
Prep Time5 mins
Resting Time15 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: Asian
Keyword: Asian Salad Dressing, Tangy Dressing, Miso Dressing
Servings: 4


  • 1 tbsp mild miso
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup vinegar rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil


  • ADD miso to bowl and stir until smooth
  • MIX IN orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil to miso. Stir after each addition.
  • REST Let dressing rest for 15 minutes so the flavors can mingle.
  • NOTE This is a tangy dressing. If you like a sweeter dressing, you can cut back from ¼ cup of vinegar to 2 tablespoons. Or, if you use the stated amounts and find it too tangy, add a tablespoon of maple syrup or agave.


Using the Lessons from Susan’s Life

Susan Ahn Cuddy was a Can-Do Woman. The two prompts below will get you thinking about your own life. Specifically the prompts focus on the influences from your mother.

  • What is one thing your mother taught you that has held you back from pursuing your life dreams? You might have overcome the advice or lessons, but they stopped you for a while.

Susan Ahn Cuddy faced incredible prejudice and excelled anyway. But she also faced prejudice from her mother. Susan married an Irish American, a fellow Navy intelligence officer. Her mother refused to talk to her for five years because she did not marry a Korean. Eventually, Susan and her husband, Francis Cuddy, moved back to Los Angeles. She wanted to be near her family and overcome their prejudice.

My mother taught me to never let a man think I was smarter than he was. She always emphasized the importance of featuring the man. Fortunately, I put aside that advice because I saw I would never be able to pursue a career if I always remained in the shadow.

Now, you think about, or write about, what you were taught that might even now be holding you back from being the best Can-Do Woman possible. Or think of advice you have overcome.

  • What is one thing your mother (or father) taught you that helped you move forward in your life?

Susan Ahn Cuddy was raised with the words, “Do your best to be a good American citizen, but never forget your Korean heritage.” This advice helped her think beyond herself and to understand that she was part of two cultures — words that made her strong in the face of prejudice.

My mother eventually came around to understand how important my work was to me and that I would always pursue it seriously. She started saying (with some pride), “I know you are going to burn the candle at both ends, but try to not burn it in the middle too.” Even now I laugh when I remember that.

Now, you think about some way that your mother gave you advice that has helped you pursue your dreams.

¶¶ Would you like a touchstone to remind you of overcoming prejudice and pursuing excellence? You might like our Susan Ahn Cuddy ornament.

(Also available as keychain, backpack charm, or sachet. Just ask us.)


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  • Alice - May 19, 2021 reply

    5 stars
    I’d never heard of Susan. Thanks for bringing her to the fore. I was searching for Asian American Month and found this blog. I’ll be back in the future. It has given me something to think about. I’ll try out the recipe too! I think I’ll add ginger when I make it.

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