ESTHER KWON ARINAGA THE FIRST WAVE PIONEERS: AN INTRODUCTION Dora Kim Moon's life is an example of the important role played by Korean women in building the Korean community in Hawai`i. In 1903, when Koreans were being recruited for Hawai`i's sugar plantations, she was asked by the Methodists to go on one of the early voyages and serve as a "Bible woman," or missionary. Traveling with her child on the twentytwo-day passage, Dora comforted the sick and converted many of the immigrants to Christianity. She also met a scholarly man named Hong Suk Moon, whom she married shortly after the ship arrived in Honolulu. With several other women, she formed a prayer group that, by 1905, had become the First Korean Methodist Church. As more Korean women began to arrive in Hawai`i as picture brides, Dora started the Korean Women's Club, which taught reading and writing, and after the March first demonstration, she supported the independence movement. She later helped form the Korean Women's Relief Society, which further aided patriots in Korea, as well as their families. In 1931, Dora was appointed by the Methodist mission in Hawai`i to become a preacher. The following year, she started the Korean Missionary Society, which supported missionary work in Korea. By 1940, the First Korean Methodist Church had grown to more than four hundred members, and Dora held a major church office. During World War II, she rolled bandages for the American Red Cross. Until her death in 1971, at age ninety-three, she continued to serve the community. Adapted from Notable Women of Hawai`i t the beginning of the twentieth century, there was an air of uncertainty about Korea's future. The great powers of Japan, China, and Russia were threatening to take over the country. In several of the provinces, a severe drought had ruined crops, causing widespread famine. In the northern provinces, particularly around P`yongyang, stories began to circulate about Hawai`i as a place where a person could get rich quickly and where education was free. The adventurous among the Koreans began to look with interest at the land across the Great Pacific. It was January 13, 1903. The ss Gaelic eased into her berth at Honolulu Harbor, carrying the first Korean immigrants recruited to work on Hawai`i's sugar plantations. There were 56 men, 21 women, and 25 children. In the next two years more than seven thousand others, including six hundred women, would join this small band of pioneers. In 1905, the Korean government--upset about the alleged mistreatment of Korean workers in Mexico and pressured by the Japanese, who controlled Korea under a protectorate treaty--stopped workers from going abroad. The first leg of the ocean journey was a short trip from a Korean port city to Japan, where the immigrants boarded a large ship bound for Honolulu. During the twenty-two-day ordeal from Kobe or Yokohama, people were packed like cattle into a large cargo hold; bunk beds were stacked three high. The smell of vomit permeated the ship. Until 1924, picture brides made the same journey, and though conditions had improved, the seasickness and homesickness were the same. On many of the voyages, a minister or a so-called Bible woman accompanied the immigrants, giving comfort and spiritual sustenance to the weary travelers. By the time the ships docked in Honolulu, many immigrants had been converted to Christianity. Upon landing, the travelers were divided into groups and sent to sugar plantations on various islands. Like the Chinese and Japanese immigrants before them, the Koreans were kept together in one camp, the bachelors living in dormitories and the families in one-room apartments. Cooking was done in community kitchens. Women who had never worked before now toiled in the cane fields with the men, and did the cooking and laundry as well. Despite their poverty, the immigrants had dreams for their children. Steeped in Confucian tradition, they felt that only education would better their sons and daughters. With foresight and great sacrifice, they sent the children who were not old enough to work in the fields to private boarding schools for Korean children. These were established first by the Methodist Mission and later by the Korean Christian Church. At the beginning, only boys were sent to these schools, but later, girls also attended them. After 1910, the Korean immigrants started to leave the plantations for Honolulu, finding jobs in laundries, tailor shops, furniture shops, and shoe-repair shops. A few opened small businesses of their own. A high-ranking Korean official passing through Honolulu had observed the loneliness of the bachelor workers, who spent their idle time drinking, gambling, and smoking opium. At his suggestion, the Korean government approved the emigration of young women who, after exchanging pictures with potential husbands, agreed to marry the men upon their arrival in Honolulu. Unfortunately, the men often sent pictures of themselves taken many years earlier, before the sun and years of hard work had taken their toll. To the young brides of seventeen or eighteen, the first meetings with their potential husbands at the Immigration Station proved a shocking, disappointing, and sometimes frightening experience. A large number of the picture brides whose husbands had found work in towns like Wahiawa, Hilo, and Honolulu escaped life on the plantations. And though most of the women had come from the more densely populated areas of Korea's southern provinces and were accustomed to hard work, they still found life in Hawai`i difficult. Their husbands' wages often did not cover household expenses, especially with children to feed. To supplement their incomes, the women began working in laundries, doing piecework for tailors, opening small dressmaking shops, or laundering clothes at home. With no electricity or washing machines, they had to do everything by hand. Working outside the home and sharing mealtimes with their husbands and sons, the immigrant women were now less secluded socially than they had been in Korea. However, they continued their custom of socializing separately from men. Through their churches they established women's clubs that assisted needy families, organized religious education and social activities, and preserved traditional Korean music, dance, and holidays. Later, these clubs would become involved in community disputes over how best to support the Korean independence movement.
Manoa – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Mar 13, 2002