“We Also Built Stockton”: Project Update 1

The Pacific Historian, Volume 26, Number 2 (1982) 102.

Research Update

I have read the introductory essay by Sally Miller in Pacific Historian about her Stockton immigration project. In addition to the ten essays that were published in Pacific Historian in 1980-81, Miller organized a conference and three seminars concerning Stockton immigrant women.[1] I have also begun to write a bibliography of important readings on Stockton, women’s immigration history, and women in the US West. When Miller conducted the interviews, there was very little history on immigrants in the western US or on smaller cities like Stockton, and even less on immigrant women.  Miller’s work broke new ground in turning attention to women in a mid-size city in California’s central valley.

Miller used the immigrant wave of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, preceding the passage of the 1920s quota acts, to contextualize women’s immigration experience.  Of the sixty immigrant women interviewed for the Stockton project, most came to the United States between 1920 and 1960, during the period of strict immigration restriction framed by the 1920s quota bills. The Johnson-Reed Act “limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia.”[2] A few of the interviewees arrived before 1920 and seven are of immigrants who arrived after 1960. Miller explains the draw of Stockton: “People came here from all over because, as already seen, immigrants follow earlier family members and townspeople, and many came to Stockton because they could follow traditional occupations in a familiar climate (fruit farming, truck farming, dairying, viticulture and others).”[3]

Miller notes that solitary female immigrants were unusual. When young people traveled solo to earn money, it was usually men, who planned to earn money and return or to create roots and bring a family.  However, those young women who came were sent by their parents to add to the family economy. Extended kin or friends from the same town typically housed her to ensure her safety and respectability.  More commonly, women immigrated with their families. Daughters went to work in the garment industry, canneries, and domestic service. Mothers and wives also contributed to the family economy, often taking in boarders and doing piece work alongside managing the household. As public education expanded in the 20th century, immigrant girls attended school and balanced the appeal of U.S. culture with the cultural ties their families stressed. Vicki Ruiz notes that women and girls were expected to be the cultural glue that held kin groups and ethnic communities together.[4]

Research Plans

I still need to read the interviews and revise the study questions and activities based on the content. I am also developing the bibliography and will revise the introductory remarks (currently based on Miller’s essay) according to newer research: especially Ruiz, E. Lee, Yung, Wallis.

Primary sources

The main primary sources are the 54 interviews in the Delta Women Oral Histories collection at University of the Pacific. These were recorded via cassette recorder in 1980 and 1981 and have been transcribed.  (A few more are not transcribed and/or of poor quality.) I’d like to include snippets of some of the original interviews to draw interest to the longer interviews.

As I determine which interviews will be highlighted on an introductory page, I may do additional research on 1-4 women to see if there are more census or newspaper sources about them.

I plan to use between 2 and 5 images as well. 

The image from the Sacramento Bee at the top of this page shows Vietnamese refugees arriving in the U.S. in 1975. Miller used it in the article on the Stockton project.  I will include it in the teaching project because it invokes movement and travel. Air travel is a key feature of 20th-century immigration. This particular image also captures the movement of families. The woman with a baby in her arms and two toddlers at her side, in fact, lead this crowd.

I need to do additional research to find this image in the Sacramento Bee, but I will help my viewers to understand the image with a caption describing the Vietnamese refugee wave of 1975 and air travel as a key 20th-century immigration element.

I will ask some thought questions:

  • What are the different ages of the people in the photograph?  What does that tell you about immigration experiences in the 1970s?
  • How did these immigrants travel to the U.S.?  How does that compare to other travel means that you have learned about?
  • Why do you think this picture was taken?
  • What do you think will happen next for these immigrants? 

Explore the interviews to find out more about 20th-century immigrant experiences in California.

Thought Questions to Frame the Teaching Lesson Plans:

  1. What kinds of work did women do?  What factors went into their job or career choices?
  2. What kinds of neighborhoods did Stockton’s immigrant women live in? Were they “ethnic enclaves”                   
  3. What difference did age make in the immigration experience?
  4. What difference did age make in the stories told during the oral history interview?
  5. How did immigrants learn about U.S. customs? How did they feel about adopting new cultural practices and learning English?
  6. How did women deal with the demands of child-rearing?
  7. Describe the relationships that the immigrant women had with their families and if those relationships changed as a result of migration.
  8. Did the immigrants search for and find an “American dream”? How did they describe that?
  9. What did the immigrants think about feminism?
  10. What specific contributions did immigrants make to their communities?


Will Bepress have the same functionality as Omeka?  It would certainly be more streamlined for a University-based project.

Can students do a text analysis via Voyant or some other system within the project page?

Next Steps:

  1. Build the collection – I have identified the 54 interviews that are transcribed.
  2. Interviews are in Bepress, so I need to decide if I want to build the site in Bepress or in Omeka.
  3. Read the interviews – Revise study questions and activities based on interview content.
  4. Develop the bibliography and revise the introductory remarks (currently based on Miller’s essay) according to newer research: especially Ruiz, E. Lee, Yung, Wallis.
  5. Write an introduction that draws out the main themes and highlights between 1-4 interviews.
  6. Include one or two recordings of women’s voices if available.
  7. Look in Sally Miller’s emeriti interview for information about the Stockton Project.
  8. Data table (if time) that can be used for relationship analysis

[1] Sally M. Miller, “The Stockton Project,” The Pacific Historian 26, no. 2 (1982): 1-9, at https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/pac-historian/102

[2] The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act), Office of the Historian, accessed May 20, 2023, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/immigration-act#:~:text=The%20Immigration%20Act%20of%201924%20limited%20the%20number%20of%20immigrants,of%20the%201890%20national%20census.

[3] Miller, “Stockton Project,” 4.

[4] Vicki L. Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 54.

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