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


 

 

INTRODUCTION: CLIMBING GOLD MOUNTAIN

Portrait of a Chinese Woman Standing.
California Historical Society, FN-13889
This exhibit explores the lives of Chinese American women during their first one hundred years in the United States. It portrays a hidden history of strength, innovation, and resilience. American history has often overlooked early Chinese immigrants, leaving their lives unrecorded. Chinese American women, in particular, have often been forgotten in the history of migrations, settlement, labor, and civil rights. Many Chinese American men have found a place in U.S. history because of their work in the gold mines, on the railroads and on public projects such as draining marshes and building roads. The daily activities of Chinese American women remain less documented.

Early Chinese Americans called the United States Gam Saan, or Gold Mountain. This was a harsh and rugged mountain for Chinese American women to climb. The history of Chinese American women has been woven through the history of Chinese American men, yet in fact it remains distinct—from the moment of leaving China, to the laws of entry into the United States, from domestic life to working life, from law to litigation, from violence to violation, from resistance to resilience.

Compared to the population of Chinese men, the population of Chinese American women remained small. During most of the late nineteenth century, fewer than 1,000 Chinese women entered the U.S., creating tiny communities of women and larger “bachelor societies” of men. Because of these skewed numbers, the Chinese in the U.S. were deprived of family and lineage. A portion of each generation simply died out or returned to China.

Although the Chinese were marked in the American press and the law as working for lower wages than whites and therefore seizing jobs from unemployed Caucasians, the particular nature of the discrimination faced by Chinese American women and the forms of resistance they created expose a country eager to prevent the population of Chinese immigrants from establishing a permanent community. The valiant history of Chinese American women reveals the failure of the nation's efforts to remove Chinese American women from the United States and repress their history.

 

 


© 2008 National Women's History Museum