Page Act, 1875

Excerpt from the Page Act, which almost completely banned Chinese women immigrants.

Document Text


-An act supplementary to the acts in relation to immigration.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in determining whether the immigration of any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country, to the United States, is free and voluntary, (…) it shall be the duty of the consul-general or consul of the United States residing at the port from which it is proposed to convey such subjects, (…) to ascertain whether such immigrant has entered into a contract or agreement for a term of service within the United States, for lewd and immoral purposes;


Any person who immigrates from China, Japan, or other Asian countries should do so out of their free will. The U.S. officials at the port of departure are responsible for applying this law. They need to make sure that nobody coming to the United States does so for contract labor or prostitution.
SEC. 3. That the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden; and all contracts and agreements in relation thereto, made in advance or in pursuance of such illegal importation and purposes, are hereby declared void; and whoever shall knowingly and willfully import, or cause any importation of, women into the United States for the purposes of prostitution, or shall knowingly or willfully hold, or attempt to hold, any woman to such purposes, in pursuance of such illegal importation and contract or agreement, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned not exceeding five years and pay a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars. It is illegal for women to be brought to the United States to work as prostitutes. It is a felony to bring or keep an immigrant woman in the United States for prostitution. This crime can be punished by up to five years of prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
SEC. 4. That if any person shall knowingly and willfully contract, or attempt to contract, in advance or in pursuance of such illegal importation, to supply to another the labor of any cooly or other person brought into the United States in violation of section two thousand one hundred and fifty-eight of the Revised Statutes, or of any other section of the laws prohibiting the cooly-trade or of this act, such person shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction thereof, in any United States court, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year. It is a felony to bring or try to bring an immigrant to the United States under contract labor. This crime can be punished by up to one year of prison and a fine of up to $500.
SEC. 5. That it shall be unlawful for aliens of the following classes to immigrate into the United States, namely, persons who are undergoing a sentence for conviction in their own country of felonious crimes other than political or growing out of or the result of such political offenses, or whose sentence has been remitted on condition of their emigration, and women “imported for the purposes of prostitution.”(…) The following groups of people cannot immigrate to the United States. First, people who are serving a sentence for a crime in their home country, unless it is a political crime or the sentence will end if they emigrate. Second, women who enter the country in order to work as prostitutes.

“The Page Act of 1875 (Immigration Act),” March 3, 1875, Forty-Third Congress, Sess. II. Ch. 141. University of Texas.


During the latter half of the 19th century, there was a major increase in immigration to the United States from China. Much of this was due to severe economic and political turmoil in China. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 made the United States a particularly desirable new home for Chinese people. Chinese immigrant men found work in gold mines and, later, in the railroad industry. Discrimination against Chinese immigrants increased in the 1870s because white laborers began to fear they would lose their jobs to the growing population of Chinese immigrants.

Chinese women, however, faced discrimination that was not directly connected to work. Instead, discrimination against Chinese women specifically centered on their perceived sexuality. Americans often assumed that all Chinese immigrant women were prostitutes. This fallacy became an excuse to keep Chinese women from coming to the United States. Americans feared that female Chinese immigrants would corrupt society, marry white men, and have mixed-race children, resulting in an increased non-white population. Politicians were hesitant to restrict the immigration of Chinese men because businesses profited from their cheap labor, so they focused their attention on keeping out Chinese women. The goal was to limit the size of the Chinese population in America by preventing Chinese men from bringing their families to the United States or starting new ones.

About the Document

The Page Act of 1875 was the first federal immigration law that prohibited a certain group of people from entering the United States. The law was named after Representative Horace F. Page from California. While the Page Act outlawed all contract labor, it particularly targeted Chinese women. Any woman who wanted to immigrate to the United States from Asia had to prove to immigration officers that she was not a prostitute.

The Page Act significantly reduced the number of Chinese women entering the United States. Between 1880 and 1882, over 50,000 men immigrated from China yet only 550 women arrived in the country. Eventually, the United States banned nearly all Chinese immigrants from entering the country for ten years due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Geary Act of 1892 extended this law and added further restrictions on Chinese immigrants. By 1910, Chinese immigrant men outnumbered women 14:1.

Following the Page Act and Chinese Exclusion Act, American immigration laws continued to place more restrictions on women. These laws were based on sexist and stereotypical assumptions about women’s morals. In 1891, Congress passed a law that required all pregnant women who entered the United States to prove they were married. Another law, passed in 1910, allowed immigrant women who performed sex work to be deported.


  • consul-general: American official representing the United States in another country.
  • contract labor: Work done by force under a contract set for a certain period of time, often for immigrants in exchange for a paid journey to the United States.
  • convey: To transfer or send.
  • cooly: Offensive term for an unskilled worker, usually from China or India. The more common spelling is coolie.
  • fallacy: A mistaken belief.
  • felony: A major or serious crime with harsher punishments than misdemeanors.
  • lewd and immoral purposes: Bad behavior; often refers to prostitution.
  • Oriental: Offensive term for someone from East Asia, especially China or Japan.
  • remitted: Pardoned or forgiven.
  • trafficking: Dealing in or trading something illegal, including people.

Discussion Questions

  • How was the Page Act used to keep Chinese women from immigrating to the United States? Why did the U.S. government specifically target Chinese women?
  • The Page Act was the first major immigration law in the United States. There were no restrictions on immigration from Europe at the time, and Chinese immigrants were not allowed to naturalize. What does that say about racism and who was considered “American” during this time period?
  • How did the American people view Chinese immigrant women? How did that perception influence immigration laws?

Suggested Activities

  • APUSH Connection: 6.9: Responses to Immigration in the Gilded Age
  • Pair this document with the life story of Polly Bemis to discuss the challenges Chinese immigrant women faced in the United States.
  • Consider how U.S. government laws and policies affected Asian Americans by pairing this document with the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement.
  • Explore anti-Chinese immigration policy. Compare the effects of the Page Act with the Chinese Exclusion Act and the life stories of Soto Shee and Linda Moy Chin in the New-York Historical Society’s curriculum guide Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion.
  • Chinese immigrants resisted restrictive laws and found creative ways around them. One example was the creation of paper sons and daughters. Watch the video created for the New-York Historical Society exhibition Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion about the system.



Source Notes