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 Telephone Exchange, Chinatown San Francisco, 1931, postcard.
Courtesy Connie Young Yu

By the 20th century, the work of Chinese American women expanded beyond Chinese communities. Second-generation women found jobs as file clerks, office machine operators, typists, and cashiers. It was not until the second half of the 20th century, however, that Chinese American women would enter financially rewarding occupations such as law and medicine.

The operators in the Chinese telephone exchange in San Francisco mastered seven Chinese dialects and knew by ear the names and numbers of 2,500 subscribers.
Courtesy Connie Young Yu

Chinese American women resisted harsh and unequal pay and working conditions. In the midst of the Great Depression women who worked for a sewing factory that supplied the National Dollar Stores organized a strike in 1938, to demand fair salaries, annual bonuses, and equal benefits to men. They joined the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and led a 105 day strike, the longest strike in the history of San Francisco Chinatown, winning a 5% pay raise and a forty hour work week. This women-led strike was an early victory against sweatshop labor in the sewing trade. 42

 

 

Occupations of Chinese American Women: 1920-1950 (Percentage)
  1920 1930 1940 1950
Domestic Service 39.3 39.3 29 18
Manufacturing 24 24 N/A N/A
Trade 16.7 15.3 N/A N/A
Clerical, Sales 7.4 11.2 26 39
Operatives N/A N/A 26 21
Professional N/A N/A 6 11
Other 14 13 13 12
Source: U.S. Census 1910-1950 (Data earlier than 1910 is unavailable)