Saturday, April 9, 2011


One of the most controversial American Naval Governors of Guam, William Wirt Gilmer left the Navy when he ended his position as governor in 1920.  He was infamous for banning whistling and for giving island residents the option of either bringing in the heads of five dead rats or paying a fine.  His antics were reported in the New York Times among many other American newspapers.

One of his most controversial laws was to prohibit Americans from marrying Chamorro women.  
This he did in September of 1919, issuing Executive General Order Number 326.

Starting on October 1, no white person on Guam could marry a Chamorro or Filipino, whether the person was fully Chamorro or only partly Chamorro. The same went for the Filipino.  And if you married the Chamorro or Filipino somewhere else in order to escape this law, you wouldn't be able to move to Guam.

Many of these American-Chamorro marriages happened when an American service man was discharged from military service. The discharged man would remain on Guam and marry a Chamorro. So, Gilmer ordered that anyone about to be discharged from the service had to do so outside of Guam.

It was his belief that the two races were incompatible.

Gilmer's Marriage Prohibition

James Holland Underwood, originally from North Carolina, didn't agree.  Underwood was married to one Ana Martinez, Chamorro, and sister of Pedro Martinez, a prominent businessman.  Underwood himself was U.S. Postmaster of Guam.  Backed by Spanish Bishop Joaquin Olaiz, who opposed Gilmer's law, Underwood worked his connections in the States.

One such stateside figure was the former Naval Governor of Guam, Robert Coontz, who was governor from 1912-1913.  In 1919 he was Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, DC.  He, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the future President Franklin D. Roosevelt, exerted pressure to have the law rescinded.  It was.

One Spanish Capuchin, Pale' Roman, quietly approved of Gilmer's law, not in the interest of the American party, but of the Chamorro.  Unlike Bishop Olaiz, Pale' Roman believed that, Underwood and a few other exceptions notwithstanding, many Chamorro women were getting the short end of the stick.  Pale' Roman claimed that not a few American husbands packed their bags and left island, leaving their Chamorro wives and children bereft of support.


The funny thing about Gilmer's law was that it was printed by the Navy printer, a man named William Rowley, a white American, who was married to none other than a Chamorro lady, the former Milagros Martínez Cruz! Rowley printed a law that would have made it impossible to marry his own wife!

1 comment:

  1. Very enlightening. Many of us would not have known this part of our history if not for you.