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Sonia Sunoo papers

Identifier: 3023

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Scope and Contents

The Sonia Sunoo papers, 1971-1998, consist primarily of oral history interview transcripts, as well as some research materials in the form of correspondence, clippings, and notes, created and collected by Sunoo and relating to Korean picture brides (mail order brides) who emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. Shortly after 1910, there were more than 2,000 arranged marriages in the U.S. between older Korean men and younger brides.

This collection collects the interviews Sunoo conducted with these picture brides (all widowed and in their 80s), primarily between the years 1975-1977, as part of the UCLA funded Korean American Oral History Project. These interviews were published by the Korean American Oral History Project in the book "Korea Kaleidoscope: oral histories" in 1982, as well as in Sunoo's 2002 companion book entitled "Korean Picture Brides: 1903-1920: a collection of oral histories", which focuses specifically on the trials and experiences of the first generation of Korean immigrant women in America.

The collection also contains some research materials for Sunoo's Oregon Historical Quarterly published article entitled "Korean Women Pioneers of the Pacific Northwest", as well as general notes, clippings, and correspondence.


  • Creation: 1971 - 1998


Conditions Governing Access

COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of the Korean Heritage Library. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Korean Heritage Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Biographical Note

Sonia Shinn Sunoo was a Korean American teacher, researcher, and writer. Her father left Korea for the United States in 1903, as part of the very first Koreans to emigrate. He worked on a sugar cane planation in Hawaii for two years before moving to California. Her mother left Korea at the age of nineteen as a picture bride to marry Sonia's father. Sonia was born in San Francisco in 1915 and grew up in Chinatown. She went to San Francisco State College where she majored in English and Biology. She also earned a M.A. in Human Development and Early Childhood Education.

In 1943, Sonia married Harold Sunoo. They had two children. Sonia taught Korean language at the University of Washington from 1943 to 1949. In 1951, she received a summer scholarship to attend Stanford for graduate work but had to leave prior to completing her dissertation due to her husband's inability to find a job upon returning from oversees. After Harold was still unable to find teaching work, Sonia ended up helping him with his grocery store business in between her own research in the 1970s of Korean picture brides and early Korean immigrants as part of the Korean American Oral History Project. Both Sunoo and her husband also wrote articles in the 1970s and 1980s regarding the first Korean women immigrants in the in the United States. Sunoo's first book oral histories book was published in 1982.

An interview from 2001 revealed it was Sunoo's greatest wish to have her book on Korean picture brides published. Sunoo felt these women were courageous pioneers who sought escape and freedom from the Confucian strictures of Korea and that they were often misrepresented in their portrayal simply because they were marrying a stranger in the United States. Sunoo strived to tell the stories of these women's desire for freedom and education and reveal the true feminist values they represented. "Korean Picture Brides: 1903-1920: a collection of oral histories" was published on May 1, 2002.


1.563 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials



Sonia Shinn Sunoo was a Korean American teacher, researcher, and writer. This small collection consists primarily of Sunoo's oral history interview transcripts with early Korean immigrant picture brides (mail order brides). The collection also contains research materials regarding this topic in the form of correspondence, clippings, and notes.


Folders are arranged alphabetically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Sonia Sunoo.

Finding aid for the Sonia Sunoo papers
Minimally Processed
Sarah Cassone
2018 April
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023 July: Finding aid updated and materials added for Box 2 by Marissa Chavez for History Associates Incorporated

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries East Asian Library Repository

Doheny Memorial Library
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-1825 United States