Edith Herwitz

Edith Herwitz

2019 Undergraduate Fellow
Social Studies

Thesis title and description:
“20th Century Japanese Restriction and the US’ Role in the World”


My project studies the politics surrounding the United States’ increasingly restrictive admittance of Japanese immigrants from 1905 to 1925 to understand the nature of American national identity during this period. How did the set of restrictive immigration policies reflect this identity? How did these policies form out of a conflict within the U.S.––between a xenophobic tide in response to the increasing heterogeneous U.S. population and the international importance of domestic U.S. policies as the United States assumed a larger role on the world stage? The 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement was the first instance of an increasingly codified exclusion of Japanese immigrants from the United States. This culminated in the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, which banned Japanese immigrants from entering the United States. Many Japanese—both in the United States and in Japan—met the law with outrage as they saw it as a violation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. The Japanese government protested, but the law remained, souring relations between the two nations. The United States government seemingly decided that U.S. homogeneity was of greater importance than maintaining amiable relations with Japan.

This presents an interesting puzzle: the United States wanted Japan to become an ally, yet systematically discriminated Japanese people. Ultimately the currents of xenophobia trumped those advocating more liberal immigration policies to maintain amicable U.S.-Japanese relations. Through my research, I hope to understand the political climate within the United States that led to increasingly exclusionary immigration policies towards Japanese migrants over the period from 1905 to 1925. I hope to understand how U.S. high-ranking officials weighed the foreign policy consideration of preserving amicable relations with Japan and domestic urges to halt the immigration of Japanese citizens.