Punjabi Women’s Gallery

Tea party, Yuba City, CA, 1967. (Left to right) Front row: Sant Kaur Grewal and Gita Kaur Grewal. Back row: Bakhso Kaur Takhar, Swarn Kaur Johl, Harbhajan Takher, Gurmit Kaur Takhar, and Swarn Kaur. Photo by Dr Manohar Singh Grewal.

Learn about the extraordinary lives of the first Punjabi women who settled in California’s Sacramento Valley.  Rattan Kaur was the earliest Punjabi woman to arrive in California in 1910.  Her daughter, Kartar Kaur Dhillon, was the first Punjabi Sikh woman born in the US in 1915.  The original generation of Punjabi women arrived in the years after the Second World War to join their husbands.  Previously, very few women from Punjab had been allowed to settle in the US due to immigration laws barring Asian migrants until 1946.  Most of the early Punjabi male migrants in California had lived separately from their families for years or had remained bachelors.  Other Punjabi men in the western US had married women from diverse cultural backgrounds, especially from Mexico.  The lives of this early generation of Punjabi bibian (elderly women) were filled with hard work on their families’ farms and loneliness living far away from their families.  The women formed intimate friendships that helped sustain them throughout their lives.  Together, they performed a great deal of community service at Yuba City’s Gurdwara and at local festivals and weddings.

The gallery is dedicated to the extraordinary women who exhibited courage in moving to the other side of the world, as well as their generosity of spirit in providing countless hours of volunteer service to help lay the foundation of Yuba City’s Punjabi American community after World War II.

Founders             The diverse women in California’s early Punjabi communities, 1910-1945.

Kartar Kaur Dhillon

Nand Kaur

Raj Kor Poonian

Mary Rai

Isabel Singh Garcia

Mexican-American Wives of Punjabi Pioneers

Pioneer Generation       The first generation of Punjabi women in the Yuba City area, 1946-1970.

Amar Kaur Bains

Surjit Bhatti

Surjit Kaur Dhami

Harpal Kaur Dulai

Manjit Kaur Janda

Jaswant Kaur Johl

Verinder Kaur Kajla

Bakshish Mann

Rasham K Sandhu

Sukhwant Thiara

Surjit Kaur Tumber

Sevadars        The pioneer generation of women who dedicated their lives to community service, 1946-1970.

Gian Kaur Bains

Joginder Kaur Dhaliwal

Amar Kaur Everest

Sant Kaur Grewal

Darshan Kaur Johl

Swarn Kaur Johl

Harbans Kaur Panu

Harbhajan Kaur Purewal

Preetam Kaur Purewal

Gurmit Kaur Takhar

Harbhajan Kaur Takher

Trailblazers        The first generation of women who charted new leadership and career paths, 1946-1970.

Kaneez Dean

Kushlia Devi

Pritam Kaur Heir

Satnam Johl

Bhagwanti Ohri

Savitri Randhawa

Mohinderjit Thiara

Satinder Thiara

Rajinder (Rani) Toor

Veena Singh

Later Arrivals       Compelling life stories of women in California’s Punjabi community, 1970-1990s.

Charan Kaur Kang

Siri Pritam Khalsa

Bhani Rai

Guddi Kaur Ranu

Guddi Siddhu

*Dates represent the years in which the women settled in the United States.

This project began in December 2016 when I formed a women’s committee with Sharon Singh (daughter of Harbhajan Kaur Purewal), Rajinder K Tumber (daughter of Surjit Kaur Tumber), and Davinder Kaur Deol (daughter of Gurmit Kaur Takhar).  Our work resulted in this digital gallery and the first documentary history of Punjabi women in California that aired on PBS called “Jutti Kasoori” (“Walking into the Unknown,” 2018). This history would not have been possible without generous support from the California Humanities, UC Davis, Sikhlens, Yuba City’s Punjabi American Heritage Society, Prabhjot Kaur Johl and many community members. My mother, Dr. Laurie Ryavec, also provided critical help. Thanks is also due to the UC Davis students who provided extensive support in transcribing the interviews and finalizing the women’s gallery, especially Gagandeep Kaur Sandhu,  Subreen Kaur Sandhu, and Harjeet Kaur Mann.  Reeta Asmai’s creativity, talent, and hard work were essential for the design of this gallery.

Note: The project team made a sustained effort to chart the history of the first cohort of Punjabi women who arrived in Yuba City before 1970. Regrettably, we were unable to profile every woman pioneer due to circumstances and time constraints.