Memorandum of the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of the Department of State (MacMurray)

The so-called “picture brides “are women who come to the United States as the wives of Japanese immigrants resident in this country but who were married to such immigrants under the exceedingly simple requirements of Japanese law without having seen their husbands and without the husbands having been present at the “marriage ceremony.” Under the provisions of the Japanese law it is sufficient for the validation of a marriage that a written notification thereof be filed with and accepted by the Registrar, such notification to be signed and sealed by the parties and the witnesses. It is not necessary that the parties personally appear before the Registrar. Under the provisions of the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” such of these women as are of the laboring class could not be admitted except as the wives of Japanese already resident here.

The administrative rule under which the Bureau of Immigration now admits these women is as follows:—

“That the validity of these marriages be recognized, unless or until it is definitely shown that they are not legal marriages under the laws of Japan, or until it satisfactorily appears that the residence in the United States of one of the parties brings the consummation of the marriage ceremony within the jurisdiction of our laws; that proof of such marriages be required, not only by a certified record of the registrar but also by a certified copy of the notification of marriage made out by the party to the same living in the United States; and that marriages at our ports be prohibited.”3

The question of whether “it satisfactorily appears that the residence in the United States of one of the parties brings the consummation [Page 416] of the marriage ceremony within the jurisdiction of our laws “is now under investigation by the Solicitors. In the meantime Senator Phelan4 has introduced in the Senate an amendment to the present Immigration Law5 to exclude absolutely Japanese of the laboring class, thus substituting an Act of Congress in place of the arrangement with the Japanese Government.

The main objection to the present arrangement, according to letters from Senator Phelan, lies in the admission of the “picture brides”. The very large increase in the number of these women now coming to the United States, as shown by statistics, leads to the conclusion, which however cannot yet be proved, that some at least are coming as the wives of the children of Japanese laborers who were here prior to the going into effect of the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in 1908. If the continued immigration of these women is permitted, the number of Japanese of the laboring class resident in the United States might easily increase very nearly in geometrical ratio.

It would seem probable, therefore, that, if this objection were removed voluntarily by the Japanese Government, the matter might not be pursued further in Congress.

  1. Letter of Aug. 25, 1919, from the Secretary of Labor (File No. 150.946/85).
  2. James D. Phelan, United States Senator from California.
  3. Act of Feb. 5, 1917 (39 Stat. 874).