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


 

 

 

Journey Across the Pacific

Chin Shee, age 21, departed on the S.S. Siberia on September 6, 1911 from Hong Kong, destination San Francisco, California. The Chinese characters at the bottom of this boarding pass state that passengers must attach a photo for confirmation when boarding.
National Archive, Pacific Region (San Bruno), Records of Immigration and Naturalization Service

“Where we lived in Hong Kong we could see the harbor where many of the big ships docked. Every time we heard the tooting of the ship, we would watch all the gamsaanpoh [women who went to the Gold Mountain] get off the ship, wearing all their jewelry and followed by their mui nui [slave girls]. We would dream about going to Gold Mountain. So when I had the chance to make the trip, I was overjoyed.”
--- Helen Hong Wong, who immigrated to the United States as a merchant’s wife in 1928 2

To cross the Pacific Ocean Chinese immigrants faced a three-week long journey, departing from coastal cities in southern China, such as Hong Kong. Many could barely afford steerage class travel and bought their tickets only with the help of relatives and neighbors, with the expectation that they would send money back to the home village once they arrived in the United States. The voyage on the steamship was rough and long. Seasick for weeks, the women rolled back and forth as they lay in bunks stacked from floor to ceiling.  Suffering from malnutrition, disease, and stress, some passengers lost most of their hair.