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


 

 

 

The Women of Angel Island

The desolate Immigration Station on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay around 1915. Angel Island is the largest island in San Francisco Bay, three miles northeast of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, California no. 238 (E size)

The struggle of Chinese women to enter and remain in the United States carried into the twentieth century. In 1906, San Francisco was shattered, and the immigration records of thousands of Chinese Americans burned. Without documentation of family lineage, a door opened for Chinese men and women to enter the United States by claiming marital or parental status.

To stem this wave of Chinese immigration, in 1910, the Angel Island “Immigration Station” opened on a bleak island in San Francisco Bay.  Unlike Ellis Island in New York, Angel Island was an intimidating detention center, designed to limit the entry of Chinese immigrants into the United States.  Immediately upon their arrival in San Francisco, custom officials ferried Chinese immigrants to Angel Island for prolonged processing. Men and women were separated, then questioned and detained for up to two years.

On Angel Island, immigration inspectors used grueling interrogations to verify Chinese immigrants’ legal status. Separated from their husbands and teenage sons, Chinese women waited from several weeks to several months to two years, anxiously preparing for their investigations and knowing they might well face deportation. A woman’s interview and testimony were required to prove that she was married to a legal resident. Often both spouses bought “coaching books” describing their villages and homes to create matching testimonies. While the testimony was recorded, corroborated, and relayed back to San Francisco, women languished in detention. From 1910 to 1940, 75 percent of the Chinese who entered the United States through San Francisco were held at Angel Island.

Living conditions were harsh. Immigrants were kept under lock and key in flimsy barracks 24 hours a day. The food was barely edible, and over the years food riots broke out. Outdoor recreation only took place behind wire fences, and generally the women merely walked in circles. Under such conditions, some women demanded to return to China on the next boat out.