Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Burl L. Noggle


This dissertation is a study of pioneer Korean immigrants from the beginning of the "mass immigration" in 1903 to the passage of the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924. The main emphasis is upon their background and experiences, and in particular upon their struggles to maintain their ethnic identity and to create for themselves an American identity. In addressing these themes, this study focuses on three major questions. First, in order to understand why conservative, land-bound Koreans left their home country for an unknown land, this study analyzes historical, socioeconomic, and political forces which worked together in both Korean and American societies. Second, in an attempt to reveal the uniqueness of the Korean experience in America, it probes such factors as Korean immigrants' socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, their family and community life, their working conditions and occupational adjustments, and their ethnic organizations. Third, in order to uncover the nature of the Korean-American community in this period, it discusses three aspects of Koreans' search for identity: their attempts to achieve identity through ethnic institutions, through political activities for Korean national independence, and through accommodation to a racially discriminating American society. After examining the distinctive characteristics, motives, organizations and social creativity of Koreans, this study concludes that, in the face of the double challenge of white racism and of the loss of their national independence, Korean immigrants did, to a remarkable extent, overcome numerous difficulties and regain and then retain their ethnic identity. They came to America as sojourners, but within ten years of their settlement, they became permanent settlers. Their status changed from that of poor, uneducated, and unstable plantation laborers to self-sufficient, literate, and trustworthy members of American society. This study also argues that Korean ethnic nationalism resulted in part from an essential desire to assimilate to American society. Thus Korean immigrants strove to be "more American" because they felt that they were working for the realization of a "democratic dream." Through ardent nationalist activities, Korean immigrants could sustain their ethnic unity and cohesiveness while searching for a meaningful life and existence in the alien and often hostile environment.