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Picture Brides in Hawaii

Updated on May 7, 2016

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


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  • celeste inscribed profile image

    Celeste Wilson 4 years ago

    Incredibly interesting and well written. It really makes me value my independence and my creature comforts. I will try to remember this the next time I complain about the little things in life.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks LianaK. Yes, it is a very good movie and on netflix. I'm sure you would enjoy it.

  • LianaK profile image

    LianaK 6 years ago

    Fascinating topic! Want to watch the movie that you posted. Great hub!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    So true carol3san. Guess we still have a long ways to go, but it has gotten better overall recently. Who would have thought about a lady for president back then? Now we have a few in the running. Time have and continue to change, but not always for the better. Aloha and thanks for your comments.

  • carol3san profile image

    Carolyn Sands 6 years ago from Hollywood Florida

    Good info. It seems like the history of women all over the world is practically the same. They are almost always taken advantage of before our modern day time. And still to this day that is true in many places.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Glad you enjoyed it Patty. Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much in Hawaiian).

  • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

    Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

    Very interesting and reated Up!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    So true Cheeky Girl. I guess women have come quite a ways (in some areas), but you can still find them being abused and taken for granted in some homes and industries. I appreciate your contribution. Aloha!

  • Cheeky Girl profile image

    Cassandra Mantis 6 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    I saw Epigramman's posting of this in Facebook. What a great and unusual hub! Women were obviously taken advantage of, this is very sad. Very informative and revealing.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I appreciate that epigramman. Glad you found my hub interesting.

  • epigramman profile image

    epigramman 6 years ago

    ..what an endlessly fascinating subject you have written about here - in fact one of the best hubs I`ve read in some time - and I will post this to my FACEBOOK page with a direct link back here so more people can read and enjoy this forgotten link in the history of culture, customs and society.

    lake erie time 1:12am

    and thank you for connecting with me - coming from such a prolific and illustrious hubber like you that`s quite a compliment.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Glad you stopped by Hello, hello, I appreciate your comments.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for this interesting hub.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Yes, I agree. It must have been major culture shock, especially when they thought they were getting a better life in America. Thanks Rose for your comments.

  • Rose West profile image

    Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

    This was very interesting - I can't imagine what it would have been like to travel so far to live that kind of life.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks Ashly and Trish. I enjoyed learning more about the history picture brides in Hawaii.

  • Trish_M profile image

    Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

    Hi :)

    Very interesting. I had not heard of this tradition before.

  • Ashly Daugherty profile image

    Ashly Daugherty 6 years ago from Big Rapids, Michigan

    Very interesting :)

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Glad you liked it leann2800. Thanks for commenting.

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    leann2800 6 years ago

    Great hub. Thanks for sharing.