Ahn was born in 1878 in Kangso, Pyeongan province, in present-day South Pyongan, North Korea. In 1896, Ahn moved to Seoul where he attended Gusae Hakdang, a missionary-sponsored school and eventually converted to Christianity over a period of four years.
In 1902, Ahn came to San Francisco with his wife Helen in order to get a better education. While living in California, he witnessed two Koreans fighting in the streets over sales turf. Ahn was apparently upset by this display of incivility among his countrymen overseas, and he began to invest time into reforming the local Korean diaspora, rising to become one of the first leaders of the Korean-American community.He founded the Friendship Society in 1903, the first Korean organization in the continental United States. In 1906, he established the Mutual Assistance Society (MAS). MAS would eventually merge with the United Korean Society in Hawaii to become the Korean National Association (대한인국민회; 大韓人國民會), the official agent of Koreans in the United States until the end of World War II.
Many consider Ahn Chang-ho to be one of the key moral and philosophical leaders of Korea during the 20th century. In the turmoil immediately before and during the Japanese occupation of Korea, he called for the moral and spiritual renewal of the Korean people through education as one of the important components in their struggle for independence.
In 1938, Japanese authorities arrested Ahn, but due to severe illness, he was released on bail and transferred to the Kyungsung University hospital where he died on March 10, 1938. A memorial park (called 'Dosan Park'; Korean: 도산공원) and hall were built to honor him in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. Another memorial was built in downtown Riverside, California to honor him. Ahn's family home on 36th Place in Los Angeles has been restored by the University of Southern California, on whose campus it sits (albeit in a different location). The City of Los Angeles has also declared the nearby intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Van Buren Place to be "Dosan Ahn Chang Ho Square" in his honor. The Taekwondo pattern Do-San was named after him.
A main freeway interchange in downtown Los Angeles where the 10 Freeway and 110 Freeway meet is named after Dosan Ahn Chang Ho.
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