Page Law of 1875

Originally designed to prohibit Chinese contract workers and prostitutes from entering the United States, this federal law eventually excluded Asian women in general.

On February 10, 1875, California congressman Page, Horace F.Horace F. Page introduced federal legislation designed to prohibit the immigration of Asian female prostitutes into the United States. Officially titled An Act Supplementary to the Acts in Relation to Immigration, the Page Law evolved into a restriction of vast numbers of Chinese immigrating into the country regardless of whether they were prostitutes. Any person convicted of importing Chinese prostitutes was subject to a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of not more than five thousand dollars.[a]Page Law of 1875Prostitution;and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]Chinese immigrants;and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]Prostitution;and Chinese immigrants[Chinese immigrants][a]Page Law of 1875Prostitution;and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]Chinese immigrants;and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]Prostitution;and Chinese
immigrants[Chinese immigrants]
[cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Page Law of 1875[04050][cat]LAWS;Page Law of 1875[04050][cat]ANTI-IMMIGRANT MOVEMENTS AND POLICIES;Page Law of 1875[04050][cat]FAMILY ISSUES;Page Law of 1875[04050][cat]WOMEN;Page Law of 1875[04050]

An amendment to the law prohibited individuals from engaging in the “Coolies”[coolies];and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]“coolie trade,” the importation of illegal Chinese contract laborers. Punishment for this type of violation, however, was less severe and much more difficult to effect, given the large numbers of Asian male immigrants arriving at the time. Consequently, the law was applied in a gender-specific manner, effectively deterring immigration of Asian females into the United States. Within seven years following the implementation of the law, the average number of Chinese female immigrants dropped to one-third of its previous level.

Chinese woman with her children and brother-in-law awaiting a streetcar in San Francisco around 1904. The sedate black outfit worn by the woman is typical of the dress worn by married Chinese women who wanted to distinguish themselves from prostitutes.

(Library of Congress)

An elaborate bureaucratic network established to carry out the Page Law’s gender-specific exclusions was a catalyst for the decline in Chinese immigration rates. American consulate officials supported by American, Chinese, and British commercial, political, and medical services made up the law’s implementation structure. Through intelligence gathering, interrogation, and physical examinations of applicants, the consulate hierarchy ferreted out undesirable applicants for immigration and those suspected of engaging in illegal human trafficking.

This investigative procedure was complicated. Any characteristic or activity that could be linked, even in the most remote sense, to prostitution became grounds for denial of the right to immigrate. Most applications to immigrate came from women from the lower economic strata of Chinese society; low economic status was linked to prostitution and therefore became a reason for immigration exclusion. Navigating language barriers through official interviews aimed at evaluating personal character often produced an atmosphere of rigid interrogation, bringing subsequent denial of the right to immigrate. In addition, passing stringent physical examinations performed by biased health care officials was often impossible.

Because Hong Kong immigrantsHong Kong was the main point of departure for Chinese immigrating to the United States, all required examinations were performed there with a hierarchy of American consulate officials determining immigrant eligibility. The consular general had such authority in implementing the Page Law that there was a wide opportunity for abuse of power. In 1878, Hong Kong consul general John S. Mosby accused his predecessors, David Bailey and H. Sheldon Loring, of having amassed thousands of dollars in extra income by charging additional examination fees regardless of whether an examination was performed and by falsifying test results to deny immigration permission to otherwise legal immigrants. Federal investigations of Bailey and Loring produced no official indictments; instead, they revealed the simple fact of overly aggressive officials who made preventing the immigration of Chinese women to the United States a top priority of their respective tenures, rather than an opportunity for profit.

Regardless of the personalities of the consulate officials in charge of implementing the Page Law, the results were the same: The number of Chinese who immigrated to the United States decreased dramatically between the 1875 enactment of the law and the enactment of its successor, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.[a]Page Law of 1875Prostitution;and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]Chinese immigrants;and Page Law of 1875[Page Law of 1875]Prostitution;and Chinese immigrants[Chinese immigrants]

Further Reading

  • Foner, Philip, and Daniel Rosenberg. Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the Present. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.
  • Peffer, George Anthony. “Forbidden Families: Emigration Experiences of Chinese Women Under the Page Law, 1875-1882.” Journal of American Ethnic History 6 (Fall, 1986): 28-46.

Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Chinese Exclusion Cases

Chinese immigrants

Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion


History of immigration, 1783-1891


Women immigrants