Throughout U.S. history, American military personnel and civilians serving abroad during times of foreign wars have returned home with foreign spouses. Not surprisingly, the conflict that brought home the largest number of “war brides”–a term encompassing both wives and husbands–was World War II.
On December 28, 1945, a little more than four months after World War II officially ended, the U.S. Congress passed the War Brides Act. Six months later, it passed the
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) recorded a total of 35,469 people who entered the United States between 1945 and 1950 under the provisions of the War Brides Act. These figures included 34,944 wives, 53 husbands, and 472 children. Other sources, however, have estimated that as many as 70,000 British women may have married American serviceman.
The first group of them left for the United States from Southampton aboard the SS Argentina on January 26, 1946. The average age of the women was about twenty-three. Most were from working-class and lower-middle-class families and had attended school only through the age of fourteen.
Although France, like Great Britain, was an American ally during World War II, it had a vastly different relationship to the American military. Most of France was occupied by Nazi Germany throughout the war, and American troops did not begin encountering French women until after the Allied invasion of France began in June, 1944. Over the ensuing year, millions of American servicemen contributed to France’s liberation from German occupation. Some of them took up relationships with French women, who were
In 1946, twenty-three-year-old
British war brides departing for the United States shortly after World War II.
The Pacific theater of the war took many American service personnel to Australia,
Like the French wives of American servicemen,
U.S. involvement in the Pacific theater of the war also took many American service personnel to
During World War II, 12,041 Chinese Americans were drafted into the U.S. military, and many of them served in China. Under the terms of a special federal law that allowed servicemen to bring home alien wives, 2,317 Chinese women immigrated to the United States between 1947 and 1950. Another 5,132 women immigrated under the War Brides Act. These Chinese immigrants were, on average, older than war brides from other countries. Fully 85 percent of them were at least twenty-six years old.
The major combatants in World War II, Japan provided the smallest number of war brides to immigrate to the United States. Between 1945 and 1950, only 758 Japanese came to the United States under the War Brides Act.
The War Brides Act expired in December, 1948, but it had a lingering impact on immigration. which included the delayed transportation of many foreign-born dependents of American service personnel to the United States. An acute shortage of seafaring passenger ships slowed the transportation of war brides. Moreover, restrictive U.S. immigration laws complicated some marriages and delayed the arrival of many war brides. Japanese war brides were particularly affected, as they were not permitted entry into the United States until 1952.
An ironic effect of the War Brides Act was its impact on the gender balance of foreign immigrants. Although the law itself was gender-neutral, it facilitated the immigration of women far more than it did men. Before the war, male immigrants had greatly outnumbered female immigrants. This shift was particularly evident in postwar immigration from China, more than half of whose immigrants were women for the first time.
Esser, Raingard. “’Language No Obstacle’: War Brides in the German Press, 1945-49.” Women’s History Review 12, no. 4 (December, 2003): 577-603. Study of depictions of German war brides in German newspapers and magazines published in the American and British zones during the late 1940’s. Hibbert, Joyce, ed. The War Brides. Toronto, Ont.: PMA Books, 1978. Broad survey of World War II era war brides. Kaiser, Hilary. French War Brides in America: An Oral History. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008. Collection of oral histories, detailing the destinies of fifteen French war brides from both World War I and World War II. Shukert, Elfrida Berthiaume, and Barbara Smith Scibetta. War Brides of World War II. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1988. General overview of World War II war brides. Virden, Jenel. Good-bye, Piccadilly: British War Brides in America. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1996. Often cited study arguing that British war brides represented the largest single group of female immigrants to the United States in the immediate post-World War II years. Zhao, Xiaojian. Remaking Chinese America: Immigration, Family, and Community. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Examination of changes to American culture in the wake of postwar immigration legislation favoring family reunification for Chinese American service personnel.
Fiancées Act of 1946
War Brides Act of 1945
World War II