War Brides Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the aftermath of World War II, immigration regulations were waived to allow foreign-born spouses and children of U.S. military personnel to settle in the United States.

Summary of Event

Between 1939 and 1946, more than 16 million U.S. servicemen, primarily single and between eighteen and thirty years of age, were deployed to war theaters in foreign lands. Although the U.S. government discouraged servicemen from marrying at all—believing the single soldier, without distractions, would be of more value to the war effort—one million marriages to foreign nationals occurred during and shortly after the war. Aware of the potential for these romantic liaisons, the U.S. War Department had issued a regulation requiring personnel on duty in any foreign country or possession of the United States to notify their commanding officer of any intention to marry at least two months in advance. Enacted in June, 1942, the regulation demanded strict adherence and the waiting period was waived rarely, with a possible exception for the pregnancy of the bride-to-be. Usually, permission to marry was granted; however, certain couples, for example U.S.-German, U.S.-Japanese, and those of different races, either encountered longer waiting periods or were denied permission completely. War Brides Act (1945) Immigration;United States World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];war brides [kw]War Brides Act (Dec. 28, 1945) [kw]Brides Act, War (Dec. 28, 1945) [kw]Act, War Brides (Dec. 28, 1945) War Brides Act (1945) Immigration;United States World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];war brides [g]North America;Dec. 28, 1945: War Brides Act[01610] [g]United States;Dec. 28, 1945: War Brides Act[01610] [c]World War II;Dec. 28, 1945: War Brides Act[01610] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Dec. 28, 1945: War Brides Act[01610] [c]Immigration, emigration, and relocation;Dec. 28, 1945: War Brides Act[01610] Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;immigration policy

Many of those couples who had been granted permission and had married were separated for two to three years. In October, 1945, the Married Women’s Association Married Women’s Association picketed for transport to allow their families to reunite. Evidently, the voices of the association’s three thousand members were heard, for on December 28, 1945, Congress passed the War Brides Act to expedite the admission to the United States of alien spouses and alien minor children of U.S. citizens who had served in or were honorably discharged from the armed forces during World War II. These spouses had to meet the criteria for admission under the current immigration laws, including a thorough medical examination, and the application had to be filed within three years of the date of the act.

Following passage of the War Brides Act, thirty vessels, primarily hospital ships and army troopships, were selected to transport the women, children, and a few men (“male war brides”) to the United States. Even the Queen Elizabeth Queen Elizabeth (ship) and the Queen Mary Queen Mary (ship) were recruited for the task, because of their capacity to carry large groups of people. Transportation requests were prioritized by the military as follows: dependents of personnel above the fourth enlisted grade, dependents of personnel already placed on orders to the United States, wives of prisoners of war, wives of men wounded in action, and wives of men hospitalized in the United States. At the bottom of the priority pool were fiancés and spouses in interracial marriages.

Before debarking, the spouse (usually a woman) had to present her passport and visa, a sworn affidavit from her husband that he could and would support her upon arrival, two copies of her birth certificate, two copies of any police record she might have, any military discharge papers she might have, and a railroad ticket to her destination from New York. The families who saw them off knew they might never see their children and grandchildren again. The American Red Cross American Red Cross was officially requested by the War Department to function as a clearinghouse for the brides, and many of their volunteers served as “trainers” for the women in how to become American wives. Since many did not speak English, the Red Cross also offered classes to aid in practical communication skills.

On January 26, 1946, the first war-bride ship, the SS Argentina, Argentina (ship) left Southampton, England, with 452 brides, 173 children, and 1 groom on board. Lauded as the “Pilgrim Mothers” or the “Diaper Run,” the voyage was highly publicized. Many of the brides, upon arriving in the United States on February 4, were greeted by the U.S. press. In Germany and Japan, permission to marry had not easily been attained and often was not granted at all. The ban on marriage to Germans was lifted on December 11, 1946, with twenty-five hundred applications submitted by the end of the year; in Japan, the ban lingered much longer.

During the first months of occupation Japan;postwar occupation , a half-million U.S. soldiers had been stationed in or near Yokohama. Many young women, fearing for their lives, hid from these “barbarians,” but since the U.S. military was often the only source of employment, the women were forced to venture out. The country was in a cultural flux resulting from economic deprivation, matriarchal predominance and female enfranchisement, and the abjuration of divinity by Emperor Hirohito. As the U.S. soldiers and Japanese women worked together, romantic relationships often developed, and because official permission to marry could not be obtained, many such couples were wed in secret in traditional Japanese ceremonies.

Although as many as 100,000 Japanese brides were deserted, others sought immigration to the United States. However, one proviso of the War Brides Act was that brides could not immigrate if they were excluded under any other provision of immigration law. The Oriental Exclusion Act Oriental Exclusion Act (1924) of 1924 was still in place, and although Public Law 199 of the 78th Congress had overridden the act to allow Chinese immigration, the Japanese were still excluded. Many were not allowed admission to the United States until July, 1947, when President Harry S. Truman signed the Soldier Brides Act Soldier Brides Act (1947) , a thirty-day reprieve on race inadmissibility.

Significance

In many cases, life for the war brides in the United States was not what they had expected. Many were treated poorly by isolationists who placed personal blame on all foreigners for U.S. involvement in the war, and many had to tolerate the scorn of former sweethearts who had jilted them. Because of the influx of soldiers returning to the civilian population, available housing and jobs were limited. Often the brides found themselves in the middle of a family-run farm, with some as sharecroppers. Frequently, when adjustment to civilian life was difficult for the former military man, he would rejoin his outfit, leaving the bride behind with his family—strangers who were sometimes hostile to the foreigner in their midst. Many of the marriages made in haste soured just as quickly through homesickness, promises unkept, or abuse. War brides who were unhappy or abused often stayed in their marriages, however, from fear of losing their children or of being deported.

Marriage did not confer automatic citizenship on foreign brides. They were required to pass exams to be naturalized, and many were still incapable of communicating in any but their native tongue. Public assistance was unavailable for these women. Within one year of the mass exodus from Europe and Asia, one out of three of the war marriages had ended in divorce, and it was predicted that by 1950, the statistics would be two out of three. This prediction proved incorrect, however, as the majority of the marriages that lasted through the first year continued to last. Many of the war brides not only preserved their marriages but also became valuable members of their communities and contributors to American culture, which became even more diverse as a result. War Brides Act (1945) Immigration;United States World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];war brides

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hibbert, Joyce. The War Brides. Toronto, Ont.: PMA Books, 1978. Discussion of the mobilization and acclimation of war brides.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kubat, Daniel, et al. The Politics of Migration Policies. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1979. Discusses immigration laws and the political control behind them.
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    xlink:type="simple">Lawson, Liz. Memoirs of a French War Bride. Santa Cruz, Calif.: n.p., 1998. Biography of a Frenchwoman who immigrated to Santa Cruz as a war bride following World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shukert, Elfrieda Berthiaume, and Barbara Smith Scibetta. War Brides of World War II. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1988. The definitive work on the topic; includes interviews with the brides.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Winfield, Pamela. Melancholy Baby: The Unplanned Consequences of the G.I.s’ Arrival in Europe for World War II. Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 2000. Focuses mainly on British war brides and discusses them alongside other effects of the influx of American G.I.’s in Britain and the Continent.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yuh, Ji-Yeon. Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America. New York: New York University Press, 2002. Study of the war brides resulting from the Korean War in the mid-1950’s. A useful point of comparison to the experience of the women who immigrated as World War II war brides one decade earlier.

Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill

McCarran-Walter Act

Hart-Celler Act Reforms U.S. Immigration Law

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