Picture Brides of Hawaii

In the early 1900s many immigrant men were recruited to work on the sugar cane plantations in Hawaii on temporary visas. Rather than intermarry, a match making organization sent pictures of these men home to recruit willing women to be their wives, and to help on the plantations. These were known as the picture brides.

Between the years of 1907 and 1924, more than 20,000 young Korean, Japanese and Okinawan women made the journey to Hawaii to be married in joint wedding ceremonies.

Photography had modernized the arranged-marriage tradition that began with matchmakers or with families who arranged face-to-face meetings to join their youth in matrimony. Now they could introduce prospective couples who lived miles apart or even across the ocean.

However, often pictures of younger and more handsome men were sent in order to make the girls more willing to travel the long distance. When they found they were "tricked into it", the girls often had no way out, since there was no money to pay their long way back home.

Most of the girls came from very poor families and were promised a better life. They were told that in Hawaii they would have freedoms denied them in their home countries. Historically, they were bound to traditions of filial piety (support and care of parents), carrying out sacrifices to ancestors, ensuring male heirs, and other burdens and expectations.

Often they had mass wedding ceremonies held at the dock or in a hotel shortly after the ship's arrival. On average, the men were 15 years older than the brides. Many of the men had put on suits or posed with a car and a nice house to attract the women, but when the women faced reality, they were very disappointed at the crude plantation quarters and sad living conditions.

Most of them did not want their families to know of their misfortunes, so they raised families and taught them traditions instilled in them from their homelands. Many of the picture brides ended up working long hours on the sugar cane plantations. Even though the women did similar jobs to the men on the plantations, they were paid considerably less. Some even strapped their babies on their backs and worked alongside their husbands. Some women left the fields and took in laundry or cooking for bachelors or wealthy families.They did all this to avoid bringing shame on their families back home.

For those picture brides who were abused, disillusioned or could not adjust to their new lifestyle, the Women's Home Mission Society provided temporary shelter as they waited and worked to go back home. Some husbands offered rewards for those that could find and return their pictures brides. Because of many of the problems caused through these practices, the picture bride process took on a negative reputation. It is interesting that it still continues from many countries today.

Woman's Typical Work Day on the Plantation (1910)

4:00 am          Women wake to prepare breakfast & lunch

5:00 am          Whistle! Wake-up 

6:00 am          Gather at train or walk to field

11:00 am         Whistle! Lunch (kaukau)

11:30am          Whistle! Kaukau finished (pau) go back to work

4:30 pm          Whistle! Pau Hana 

                        Go to furo/bath

                        Fix dinner

                        Garden, sew & other family care

8:00 pm          Whistle! Lights Out 

                        Continue family care activities as necessary