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FRANCE: Governors send French white women to populate the colonies


FRANCE: "Casquette girls", "Pelican girls", and correction girls


SPAIN: Peasant women and girls from northern Spain to Río de la Plata through royalist project


FRANCE: The King's daughters


ICELAND: Royal decree on merchants' residency brings influx of female relatives

Women's Migration Timeline

Mid-8th century BC

ITALY: Abduction of the Sabine women

1545-18th century

PORTUGAL: The Órfãs do Rei (The King’s Orphans or The Queen’s Orphans)


ENGLAND: "Tobacco brides"

  • At the foundation of Rome, Romulus needed to ensure the growth of the city's population with the introduction of women. So, the Romans abducted 30 women from the neighboring people, the Sabines, on the night of Neptune Equester.
  • This is an early case of constrained women's migration.

  • The Órfãs do Rei (The King’s Orphans or The Queen’s Orphans) were Portuguese girls sent to the Portuguese Empire to marry colonial settlers.
  • They mostly departed from Lisbon after 1545 and up until the 18th century.
  • This phenomenon spanned all social classes as the selected girls had to be white and of good birth, i.e. noble girls were sent to marry Portuguese settlers as well as girls from orphanages who were educated for that purpose. They were taken care of before departure and first received by the King who gave them a generous dowry or colonial land to ensure their marriage. They were mainly sent to Goa (India), Malacca (Malaysia), or Brazil to consolidate colonization.
  • Most girls were under 17, although the age limit was 12-30 years old. Queen Catarina de Austria is said to have sent large contingents of girls to the colonies.

  • In 1619, 90 young single women from England went to Jamestown, Virginia, and were bought by the colony's men for 150 pounds of tobacco each, which led them to be called the “tobacco brides”.
  • The tobacco paid for the cost of their passage to America to the shipping company. For instance, Jane Dier was only 15 or 16 years old when she left, and Alice Burges was aged 28.
  • This was an early case of constrained migration.
  • The Virginia Company brought 144 tobacco brides to Jamestown between 1619 and 1622.

  • About 800 orphan girls were sent to New France (today's Quebec) to create families and reproduce the French population in the colony.
  • Protected by King Louis XIV, they are referred to as the "Kings' daughters" ("les filles du Roy").
  • They are said to have tripled the population of today's Quebec with 4,500 births attributed to the Kings' daughters, although this figure is debated by historians.

  • Originally, governors themselves brought settlers and therefore a certain number of women.
  • Bertrand d'Ogeron de La Bouëre (officer, colonial administrator) sent two ships in 1667, each loaded with 50 girls from orphanages to be married in the colonies.

  • 7,000 French women were sent to the colonies -- especially Louisiana -- to become brides for the settlers.
  • Many were sick and malnourished, and died on their way to the colonies.
  • After the Pelican/Casquette girls, women were selected from correction centers to rid the metropole of its unwanted population

  • Before 1777, Copenhagen-based merchants trading in Iceland were not permitted to bring wives and children with them or to settle permanently in Iceland.
  • A policy change in 1777 required all merchants to maintain a year-round residence in Iceland. This policy change brought an influx of women into Iceland: both wives and daughters of affluent merchant families, as well as single women hired as their domestic workers.

  • Nearly 900 peasant women and girls emigrated from northern Spain to the Río de la Plata as part of a royalist project to colonize Patagonia (Argentina and Chile).


IRELAND: Great Irish famine women migrants outnumber men


IRELAND: Earl Grey Scheme

Women's Migration Timeline


POLAND: Polish women at the University of Geneva


UK: Creation of women's emigration societies


UK: "Bride ship"

SLOVENIA: Alexandrinian women


ITALY: Women's migration to the USA


ICELAND: The Allan Line's agency in Iceland and first wave of women's migration from Iceland


  • The presence of Polish female students at the University of Geneva dates back to the 1870s. They came especially from the Russian partition or daughters of exiles from the depths of Russia. Indeed, Russian universities did not allow women to study.
  • From the end of the 19th century, the number of Polish women at the University of Geneva gradually increased. As possibilities for higher education were scarce for women in Poland, the example of male students and the influence of women's emancipation movements from Western Europe encouraged Polish women to study abroad.
  • The pioneers were teachers and independent Polish women who wanted to broaden their knowledge and who challenged stereotypical social roles. They studied in Switzerland, France, Belgium, in Germany. Polish women studied medicine, exact and natural sciences, but also history and social sciences. In 1873, 104 women from the Russian Empire were registered at the University of Geneva.
  • The list of Polish students includes semester 1872-1873 by Bohumiła Ziemińska ("de Russie"), a philology student. In the years 1910-1912, the number of Polish students increased 405 (including 265 female students).
  • Young Polish women primarily chose to study medicine.

  • 4,112 girls were taken from orphanages and workhouses in Ireland to New South Wales, Australia. The idea was to solve the "servant question" (the shortage of servants) in the colonies, bring women to help the colonial population grow and rid Irish workhouses of their indigent girls.

  • As a direct result of the "Great Irish Famine", over 1.3 million people emigrated to the USA, UK, Australia, and Canada with more than 50% composed of women.
  • More women than men left Ireland after the Great Irish Famine, particularly young single women. This was due to a lack of marriage opportunities and resistance to patriarchal Irish society.

  • Creation of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) by Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robart in 1854.
  • Creation of the Female Middle Class Emigration Society by Maria Rye in 1861.
  • Creation of the British Women's Emigration Society (1884-1919).

  • In 1863, "bride ship", the Robert Lowe, arrived in British Colombia from the UK with 32 young girls and women (12 to 19 years old).
  • 4 months before, the S.S. Tynemouth had brought about 60 educated women to British Columbia.
  • The Alpha, the last "bride ship", left Liverpool in 1870.

  • The opening of the Suez canal attracted European settlers and was the start of the migration of the 'Alexandrinian women'
  • These women from Gorizia, Trieste and Vipavska Dolina regions migrated to work for rich European and Arabic families as wet nurses, nannies, etc.
  • Migration went on for almost 100 years and ended at the time of the nationalisation of the Suez canal.

  • In a century between 1871 and 1980, 6,462,791 Italian women emigrated to the USA as part of the Italian diaspora (Favero, Tassello, 1978, pp. 27-28)

  • Large-scale overseas emigration from Iceland to North America began in 1873, when the Allan Line established an agency in Iceland. Emigrants included many single, widowed and married women: at least 143 in 1873 and 197 in 1874.
  • This was the first time in Iceland's history that large numbers of Icelandic women emigrated from the island. Over 7,200 women are known to have left Iceland for North America from 1870 to 1914.

SPAIN:Women from Spain to Argentina



DENMARK: Polish migration to Denmark

Women's Migration Timeline


ITALY: Sociedade Promotora from Brazil encouraged migration of family units from Italy to fazendas

FINLAND: Crofter law, expulsions and women's migration



ISRAEL: Founding of "The maidens' farm"

ESTONIA: Remigration of Estonians to Soviet Russia: half women


GREECE: Migration of brides for Greek settlers in the US and Australia


POLAND: Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth


  • Between 1882-1926, Argentina was the preferred destination for Spanish women.
  • 1/3 of the 900.000 Spanish emigrants were single women aged between 20 and 25.
  • They were often looking for work opportunities, especially in the urban industries and domestic service.

  • 12 Polish nuns from The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth went to Chicago on 4 July 1885. Ten years before, the congregation had been founded in Rome, Italy by a Polish noblewoman Frances Siedliska.
  • In 1887, they founded an academy, the Nazareth Sisters, which also created care facilities in the USA, where they took care of Polish immigrant children and families and cared for the sick.
  • From 1894, they also ran the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Nazareth in Chicago. The congregation welcomed women from all over the world and their goal was to teach immigrants and children in Polish schools.
  • From Rome, the Congregation spread quickly throughout the world and today 1,100 sisters serve in 14 countries: Australia, Belarus, England, France, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United States.

  • Sociedade Promotora from Brazil encouraged the immigration of family units from Italy into large Brazilian estates called fazendas. According to Zuleika Alvim, the migrant woman "in addition to working on the plantation together with her husband, had to take care of the 'small plot of land reserved for the immigrant settler, where a small vegetable garden and the raising of animals was kept'", a "subsidiary work" considered an integral part of the "domestic work" that yielded 37 percent of the family budget income, a value corresponding to the income after subsistence expenses for the average family employed in the fazendas. They thus represented savings that could be invested in the future of the entire family, to buy land or move to the city.

  • On 21 June 1908, the "Law on the Employment of Foreign Workers in Certain Enterprises and the Supervision of the Public Sector" was signed. The law was nicknamed the "Polish Law" because it regulated the working conditions of Polish seasonal workers, among others.
  • In the parliamentary session of 1905-06, Social Democrat Peter Sabroe presented a case on the mistreatment of two Polish girls. The debate prompted the Ministry of the Interior, among others, to conduct an investigation into the circumstances. This led to the drafting of the "Polish Law", which was adopted in 1908.
  • Most of the immigrants were women. In Maribo county in 1914, only 15% of Polish immigrants were men, and after the First World War, only women were recruited for the best work.

  • Changes in Crofter law led to a series of expulsions and strikes, and consequently an increase of 165.5% from the previous year in women moving abroad.

  • In 1911 a farm dedicated to teaching agricultural skills was founded to teach agricultural skills to young women who migrated from Europe.

  • According to the Central Bureau of State Statistics, among the 36,155 emigrants who arrived in Estonia by the end of 1922, there were 17,812 women, i.e. 49.3% of the arrivals.
  • These migrants made up 3.4% of the Estonian population, a significant part of the society.

  • In the 1920s and 1930s, Greek (and Greek Cypriot) emigrants to the USA were mostly male. Arranged marriages, whereby an emigrant was matched to a girl in Greece (or Cyprus), boosted women's out-migration mainly to the USA.
  • Most left alone and sailed to meet their future spouse of whom they often only carried a photograph. They usually met for the first time upon landing at the harbor.
  • The 2004 film Νύφες ('Brides', dir. Pantelis Voulgaris) is a fictional representation of this series of events.
  • Starting in the 1950s, a similar wave of brides' migration ensued, from war-ravaged Greece, this time to Australia. Similar scenes took place, of prospective spouses meeting in Melbourne harbor, photos in hand to recognize each other.


ITALY: Marriage by proxy

GREECE: Canadian government scheme to recruit domestic workers

Women's Migration Timeline

GREECE: The "Begona'" transported 900 single Greek women to Australia





LATVIA, LITHUANIA AND ESTONIA: Labour scheme called “Balt Cygnet”


ROMANIA AND GERMANY: Deportation order for women


BELGIUM: The "Ligue des Familles nombreuses"


GREECE: Greek-Australian program to even the gender imbalance

MALTA: Malta-Australia Migration Agreement

  • The Belgian League of Large Families ("Ligue des Familles nombreuses") extended social rights to families and this affected migrant women as it guaranteed Hungarian migrant women a job and a work contract for two years, as well as the handling of all administrative formalities. Despite the economic crisis of the 1930s, the Belgian authorities showed little concern for the control of the domestic labor market, and Hungarian domestic workers faced almost no obstacle to immigration during that period. Run by three Hungarian social workers paid by the Hungarian government, the League provided a space in Brussels dedicated to the placement of domestic workers. The League also offered spaces of sociability and provided housing to some temporarily unemployed women. It also informed Belgian families about the possibility of hiring Hungarian women, thus serving as an intermediary between the women migrants and their future employers.

  • In January 1945, 70,000 ethnic German women from Romania were taken by the Red army for forced labour. In total, this concerned 120,000 people from Eastern Europe and Germany as men aged 17-45 and women 18-30 were deported to different regions of the USSR as war reparation. About 12% died there. Other deportations followed in 1949, under Stalin time, and this also concerned people in Romania, in Baragan or Basarrabia and Bucovina Germans. From the Baltic states, 70% of the deportees were women and children.

  • Approximately 12,000 Italian women married by proxy in Italy between 1945 and 1976 and then emigrated to Australia to meet, often for the first time, their husbands. Marriage by proxy, or the celebration of a union between two people in which one of the spouses is absent at the time of the ceremony and thus is symbolically substituted, was a widespread practice among Italians who emigrated to Australia more or less until the 1970s. Those who were in search of a wife in fact turned to their family in Italy for help in finding a mate for life.

  • This British government labor scheme enabled Latvian (and Lithuanian and Estonian) DP women aged between 18 and 40 years old, to leave the DP camps, travel to Britain, gain employment and receive accommodation and wages.
  • Read more here: https://www.archiv.org.lv/latviesi_lielbritanija/?page=200&lang=en , and also here: http://barthes.enssib.fr/clio/dos/genre/com/salvatici.pdf

  • After the 2nd world war, nearly 140,000 persons from a total Maltese population of around 300, 000 people left the Maltese Islands in search of a better life. Australia was the primary recipient of this post-war mass movement accounting for around 57.6% of all emigrations taking place between 1946 and 1970.
  • Of these around 24,573 comprised of women, 35, 828 men and 25, 285 children (Source: Attard 1997). -
  • Attard, L., The Safety Valve (A History of Maltese Emigration from 1946). San Gwann, P.E.G. Ltd., 1997 p.13

  • In little over a decade (1951-1963) over 10,000 Greek women became Canadian immigrants through the Canadian government scheme.
  • The Canadian government scheme aimed to recruit women for domestic work from a list of preferred European origins.

  • Migration as part of a programme first devised in 1956 by the Australian government in association with the Government of Greece and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM, now IOM – International Organisation for Migration) was designed essentially to even the gender imbalance created by the many single Greek males who settled in Australia during the 1950s and early 1960s.

  • In 1957, a boat called 'Begona' took 900 single Greek women to Australia to become brides for the many Greek men who migrated there. Known as 'The Brides of 1957', the women traveled to marry men knowing only their names and carrying a photograph.
  • Earlier, many Greek sailors joined the 1850s gold rush in Victoria, Australia, which created a 'need' for Greek brides.


SWITZERLAND: Manifesto of Foreign Women

Women's Migration Timeline

CYPRUS : Women Walk Home movement





BULGARIA: Greek women political refugees

GREECE: Arrival of Filipino women domestic workers



CROATIA: Women's migration from Croatia to Italy


SPAIN: Female migration under Franco's dictatorship

NETHERLANDS: Deportation of wives of Italian migrant workers

CROATIA: Agreements on employment between the SFRY and Western countries

  • In the 1960s, under Franco’s dictatorship, the Spanish government signed agreements with other European countries (Germany in 1960; France, The Netherlands and Switzerland in 1961) for legal emigration from Spain.
  • Between 1961 and 1973, migration to Germany was predominantly a male phenomenon although by 1975 women migrants accounted for 39.4% of the total. Most of the Spanish women migrants found jobs in factories.

  • Dutch policy denied the wives of "guest workers" the right to accompany their husbands, but some did so illegally.
  • The deportation of Italian workers' wives in 1965 received significant negative media attention, leading to protests.
  • This in turn led to a policy change whereby wives of workers from the EEC were entitled to remain, a right that was later extended to women from other countries.

  • Workers permission for "temporary work" abroad was facilitated because of the economic crisis and the inability to find employment in Croatia.
  • So, tens of thousands of workers, almost half of them women, went to work abroad, and many remained permanently settled in the countries where they were employed.
  • This led to the development of receiving countries, but also investment in Croatia with remittances in foreign currency and greater consumption of various goods.
  • Demographic changes in Croatia include population decrease and the phenomenon of chain migration.

  • After 1974, a wave of Filipino women migrated to the EU, stimulated by the economic crisis in their country and pushed out by the Marcos dictatorship.
  • They came to Italy, Spain, Germany, and Greece and worked mainly as domestic workers.
  • In Greece, the name 'Filiineza' (Filipino woman) became synonymous with 'domestic worker' in the 1980s. 81% of the Filipino women in Greece as of 1999, generally found employment as domestic workers. The association between Filipinas and domestic work is so strong that a Greek dictionary published in 1998 even defined "Filippineza", a term which literally means Filipina, to be "a domestic worker from the Philippines or a person who performs non-essential auxiliary tasks". In the 2001 census, there were 4,919 Filipino women in Greece (73% of total Filipino population in Greece).

  • In 1975, the invasion of the island of Cyprus by Turkish troops caused a wave of migration of approx. 170,000 persons, half of them women and girls.
  • Some women moved to the unoccupied southern part of Cyprus and created the movement "Women walk home" to get back to their houses in the occupied part of the country.
  • Many also left Cyprus mainly to Greece, the UK, Australia, the US, and other countries. By 1975, approximately 35.000 displaced people emigrated abroad to seek work and a new life.

  • Manifesto of Foreign Women published. In both events, migrant women claimed their rights as women, workers and "foreigners".
  • This manifesto is available here: Emigrazione Italiana, 28. Jg. Nr. 36 (Sept. 1975), Sozialarchiv Zürich. If desired, I can try to obtain it as a digital copy. A part of it is visible here: http://www.lescomplices.ch/recollect/wir-fordern/

  • Greek women political refugees in Bulgaria: following the collapse of the Greek communists in the Greek Civil War, some 7,700 former guerillas, approx. 3000 of them women, sought refuge in communist Bulgaria.
  • They were subsequently dispersed to industrial centers, where work was available. The initial population was almost wholly agrarian.
  • In Bulgaria, they acquired industrial skills. Some also accessed higher education, despite their limited education from homeland.
  • Most returned to Greece in the 1980s with enhanced skills that made a difference in their employment prospects.

  • Throughout the last four decades, hundreds of women, especially from the Croatian regions of Istria and Kvarner, which are very close to Italy, have migrated to Italy to take care of elderly people. Some of them migrated on a daily basis and some in shifts from a couple of weeks to a couple of months stay abroad. Women took that kind of job because of their insufficient incomes and had to find other ways of earning money. Many of them worked without a work permit so they were often victims of exploitation.

SLOVAKIA: Circular migration for Slovak nannies in Austria (1989-2006)


Women's Migration Timeline

NETHERLANDS: Regulation facilitating independent residence status for wives

MONTENEGRO: Regulation on the care of displaced people




ALBANIA: Recruitment and transport centre of women from eastern Europe

Russia: Women sold as commodities on the sex market


KOSOVO: Yogoslavian women become refugees


ITALY: Bossi-Fini Law and caregivers' migration to Italy


ISRAEL: Law prohibiting human trafficking impacting women migrants' exploitation


  • Following a vigorous and controversial campaign focused on spousal abuse by Turkish immigrants, Dutch law was amended to reduce the legal dependence of immigrant women on their spouses.
  • Henceforth, the required time of residency that was necessary to obtain independent residency status was shortened to one year.
  • As Marlou Schrover has noted, while this was a victory for migrant women's rights, the campaign promoted the association between Turkish migration and the oppression of women.

  • Middle-aged Slovak women regularly went on two-week tours to neighboring Austria to provide care for the elderly. In 2015, more than 26,500 Slovak nannies worked legally in Austria.

  • Albanian women’s mobility reflects the newly-acquired post-communist freedom of movement, but it has also been affected by coercion and human trafficking. Indeed in the 1990s, Albania was considered one of the centers of the recruitment and transport of trafficked women from Eastern Europe to Western Europe.

  • During the war and the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Montenegro enacted a Regulation that provided refugees from Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia the status of displaced persons on the territory of Montenegro. It is estimated that more than 50% of these refugees were women.

  • In 1997, as many as 175,000 young women from Russia and Eastern and Central Europe were sold as commodities on the sex market of developed countries in Europe and the Americas.

  • During the Kosovo War and humanitarian crisis in 1998/1999, NATO started bombarding FR Yugoslavia on 24 March in reaction to the ethnic cleansing that was happening on the territory of Kosovo (at that time part of Yugoslavia).
  • As a consequence, Kosovo faced a massive flow of refugees, predominantly women and children. Approximately 110,000 Kosovar refugees went to Montenegro in 1999, the majority of them women and children of Albanian nationality. The majority of Albanians returned to Kosovo after the war was over.

  • In 2002 with the Bossi-Fini Law that introduced criminal sentences on illegal migrants and legalized migrant workers, more than 60,000 women caregivers from Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, and Russia) migrated to Italy.

  • In 2006 a law was enacted prohibiting human trafficking in Israel. The law has dramatically reduced the trafficking and exploitation of migrant women in Israel.

LUXEMBOURG: The Lëtzebuerg Diversity Charter


Women's Migration Timeline

UK: Brides for ISIS fighters


GERMANY: Syrian Civil War and women refugees


GEORGIA: Women's migration due to economic crisis


MOLDOVA: Movement of Migrant Women



UKRAINE: Martial Law and influx of women migrants

  • Around 1 million Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Germany since 2010, of which 78.8% are women and their accompanying children. It is indeed assumed that married Syrian men are more readily accepted into the country's immigration system than single men.
  • Early marriage for girls is also promoted as providing greater security in an insecure environment.

  • Between 2014 and 2016, 48,359 women left the country due to the economic crisis.
  • EU and Georgia signed an Association Agreement, which entered into force on July 1, 2016. The total number of emigrant women from Georgia between 2016 and 2021 was 372,416. They left for better jobs, education opportunities, and family reunification purposes.

  • The Lëtzebuerg Diversity Charter is offered to companies in Luxembourg so that they promote diversity through concrete actions. For instance, the charter promotes the development of migrant women.
  • Since 2015, the Committee for the Diversity Charter Lëtzebuerg has been organizing the Diversity Day Lëtzebuerg in collaboration with the "Office luxembourgeois de l'accueil et de l'intégration" (OLAI), now "Office national de l'accueil" (ONA). This event aims to bring together companies, public organizations, and associations around the promotion of diversity and anti-discrimination, which eases the integration of migrant women in the Luxembourg society.

  • Some 5,000 women left their home countries in the West (including Western European countries and the US) following the Women of the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study released in 2015 by the women-dominated Al-Khansaa brigade, a branch of the ISIS Islamic police. It invited women to join ISIS and build the ideal Islamic state in the parts of Iraq controlled by ISIS.
  • The most famous examples were three underaged girls from London, UK, who traveled via Turkey to Syria and Iraq. This group included Shamima Begum, a confirmed survivor, following the collapse of ISIS.

  • Over 60 Moldovan migrant women who have returned to Moldova created the Movement of Migrant Women aimed at changing the law on migrant pension rights. Their movement is hosted on the United Nations Moldova webpage. Nicoleta Apostol is the president of the movement, which coordinates the national legislation with the European one; instructs migrant women on their rights; and collaborates with other organisations of female migrants.

  • The invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces led to the implementation of martial law on 24 February 2022, which forbid men aged 18-60 to leave the country. As a consequence, millions of women and children migrated cross-border and were assisted outside of Ukraine. The invasion of Ukraine and subsequent martial law initiated a gendered pattern of migration by restricting the emigration to women, children and men over 60 years old.