Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

Chinese American Women Challenge the "Dog Tag" Act

A certificate of residence for a Chinese female laborer.
History San Jose Research Center

In 1873, facing foreign competition for goods and markets that had developed during the Civil War, the United States suffered a serious economic depression.  In the West, politicians, wealthy businessmen, and members of the new union movement blamed the Chinese minority for the hard times; it is not an accident that in 1875 the Page Law soon followed.

Although most whites did not want the jobs held by the Chinese, state and local politicians passed codes that restricted the work of Chinese Americans, such as the Laundry Ordinance that banned laundries in wood buildings. 

In 1892 Congress passed the “Geary Act”, renewing the Exclusion Law and adding the provision that within a year all Chinese American laborers must register with the government and carry photo identity cards. 

In the largest mass civil disobedience to date in the United States, over 100,000 Chinese Americans refused to register or carry the cards. Thousands of Chinese Americans were arrested and languished in crowded jails. The U.S. District Court for Southern California allowed bands of roving vigilantes to make citizen’s arrests. Unemployed white men across the West assaulted and seized Chinese men and women, particularly in farming areas, and threw them into jails that were crowded with thousands of Chinese Americans now facing deportation. Some judges ruled that deportation without trial was “cruel and unusual punishment” and the Chinese women remained in jail, without lawyers, without family, and without trials.

Yet other Chinese women, enduring an even more precarious status than Chinese men, realized that they had to register under the Act. The owners of prostitutes, eager to protect their “investments,” invited the registrars to the brothels to sign up the women. 32