previous chapter
Chapter 2 America's Prodigal Daughters and Dutiful Wives: Debating the Expatriation Act of 1907
next chapter

Chapter 2
America's Prodigal Daughters and Dutiful Wives:
Debating the Expatriation Act of 1907

Every woman who leaves the duty and decorum of her native land and prostitutes her American name to the scandals, the vices, the social immoralities and moral impurities of foreign cities not only compasses her own shame, but mars the fair fame of the republic.
—James Blaine, Columbus and Columbia

Naturalization proceedings in Justice Adelbert P. Rich's court had moved ahead rather mundanely that day—until interrupted by the unscheduled appearance of fourteen young women attired in academic regalia. An attentive audience commonly gathered to watch relatives become U.S. citizens, but it was unlikely that the gowned spectators sporting the yellow and white ribbons of the woman suffrage movement belonged to this group. The women stood in sentinel-like silence at the rear of the courtroom until Justice Rich requested that they be escorted to the seats, where they then silently observed the proceedings. A knot of reporters and curious bystanders formed outside the courthouse to gain an interview with the women as they exited, but the protesters refused to break their silence. The local woman suffrage organization issued a formal statement revealing the symbolic purpose of the event: "This demonstration is intended as a silent protest against a system of government which gives the ballot to men who scarcely understand our language and institutions and denies it to women, born, reared, and educated in this country. It is in no wise


intended as a slur upon the men being naturalized. . . . We do not ask that any privileges be taken from these men, but that the same privileges be accorded us women."[1] The protest, staged in 1919 in Susan B. Anthony's hometown of Rochester, New York, might have been unusual, but the demonstrators' grievances repeated a familiar suffragist lament. The political status of the foreign-born voter was not of incidental interest to many woman suffragists. While suffragists were either willing or constrained to speak favorably of the character of the foreign-born woman, many viewed the voting male immigrant voter as an affront to the patriotism of the American-born, yet disfranchised, woman. The native-born suffragist protested that she should outrank the average foreign-born man in political power by virtue of her native birth, education, and loyalty. The rights and privileges of American citizenship were her birthright, not his; yet, she was the one forced to plead for the political voice he might possess.

Some prominent suffrage leaders publicly vilified the alien male voter as a usurper of citizenship's privileges and a confirmed adversary of woman's rights. Forced to appeal to enfranchised alien or naturalized men for political recognition, some suffragist leaders developed a competitive and antagonistic attitude toward the male immigrant voter.[2] Lashing out at the immigrant voter was not always a successful political strategy, but as the country grew increasingly wary of the impact of immigration on social and political institutions, woman suffragists found this xenophobic trend advantageous to their cause: By the final decade of the woman suffrage movement, federal and state laws had turning alienage into a stigma, and assimilationists were emphatically proclaiming that "Americanization" was the immigrant's true and certain path to moral and cultural enrichment, financial success, and, of course, American citizenship. The Americanization movement's exaltation of the virtues of the "100 percent American" appealed to both native-born and foreign-born residents, and many woman suffragists


embraced this celebration of cultural homogeneity as validation of their cause.

In such a political atmosphere, native-born women should have been able to claim unimpeachable possession of loyalty to the United States, but the federal government had challenged that presumption of allegiance with the passage of the Expatriation Act of 1907. American nativity and education, civic virtue—indeed, all the factors women had historically cited to underscore the justice of their demands for equal citizenship rights—were rendered almost meaningless by the country's new expatriation law. When the federal government declared that "any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband," citizen women lost a political right more fundamental than their ability to cast a ballot.[3] For the next fifteen years, that legislative command denationalized or denaturalized every woman who married an alien.

Meanwhile, federal law continued to grant citizenship to most alien Women who married American men. Not surprisingly, then, woman's rights activists' responses to the female immigrant in the early 1900s were ambivalent—at times charitable, sometimes insensitive, but rarely indifferent.[4] When suffragists expressed their reservations about immigrant voting, those immigrants were generally understood to be male.[5] The Woman's Journal, a prominent suffrage paper, decried political parties' practice of paying men's naturalization fees in exchange for the assurance of their vote—a routine that turned "dirty, ignorant, illiterate men . . . into citizens in a single week." The Journal often directed this message at American men, admonishing them to "cease to make their


own educated mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters the political inferiors of the most ignorant and degraded male human being."[6]

Carrie Chapman Catt, who would later become president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), likewise warned that the nation was "menaced with great danger . . . in the votes possessed by the males in the slums of the cities and the ignorant foreign vote." Her simple solution to this problem: "cut off the vote of the slums and give it to woman."[7] Catt's comment revealed her interest in cultivating the "educated vote." The "woman" she desired to enfranchise was not an unschooled slum dweller. The core of NAWSA's membership shared Catt's preference for stricter voter qualifications for both the citizen and noncitizen, and citizen women's loss of independent citizenship only intensified the organization's commitment to this goal. In 1920 NAWSA approved a nine-point voting-standards plan endorsing direct citizenship for women, which included the independent naturalization of foreign wives. In addition, the plan's framers suggested that immigrants (regardless of sex) should earn a certificate from a "school of citizenship" to qualify for naturalization and enfranchisement.[8]

Excluding the foreign-born woman from the polls was not one of NAWSA's goals, but its members had no desire to let anyone vote—male or female, native-born or naturalized—unless that individual exhibited an understanding of and appreciation for the country's customs, government, and language. Some suffragists did express reservations about the voting fitness of foreign-born women whose loyalty remained untested by the naturalization process, but the sharpness of their comments was often blunted by references to the domestic virtues of foreign women as wives and mothers. Instituting citizenship-training programs for immigrant women was one method NAWSA proposed for remedy-


ing immigrant women's lack of formal training for citizenship; the other was the abolition of marital naturalization.[9]

Suffragists, of course, were not the only critics of first-paper aliens' voting, but they were participants in a larger movement that resulted in new state restrictions on declarants' political privileges. One indicator of the country's nativist drift was state voting laws. In the nineteenth century, the number of states granting aliens the franchise had risen as high as twenty-two; by 1900, that number had been halved. The fear of alien dissidents, intensified by labor unrest and World War I, nearly wiped out voting privileges for first-paper male aliens.[10] Nevertheless, as suffragists pointed out, at the end of World War I nine states still allowed noncitizen men to participate in as many or more elections than citizen women.[11]

During the war suffragists tapped public uncertainty over the loyalty of the resident foreign population to generate additional support for their cause. Suffragists warned that when American men left for war, aliens of dubious character would rush in to fill the political void. But if citizen women had the power to vote, they could guard against alien assaults on Americans' government. Suffragists explained that deep-seated loyalty to country compelled them to speak out with renewed urgency for the political weapons to challenge those who would undermine American unity and democratic values. "Not only a burning patriotism has aroused the women of these states as never before to work for their right to voice their own principles of government, but a real desire to protect the interest of their sons and husbands at the front from possible domination by a hostile spirit at home," declared Catt.[12] Suffragists insisted, and polls suggested, that the majority of American soldiers did favor women's enfranchisement.[13] Although negative propaganda questioning the allegiances of the foreign-born probably


did promote the short-term goals of suffragists, it also confirmed the presence of an antiforeign bias within the suffrage movement. Such sentiments had deep roots, nurtured by the conviction that most alien men were opposed to women's enfranchisement and that too many foreign men had perverted a political privilege that native-born women would treat reverently.

Prior to 1920, most declarant alien voters were men, but propaganda against foreign voters circulated by suffragists and the opponents of derivative naturalization inevitably cast doubt on the immigrant woman's fitness as well. By 1907, a married immigrant woman could gain citizenship only through her husband, a circumstance that made it even more difficult than before for suffragists to argue that citizen women were as prepared as citizen men to cast an informed and independent vote. Suffragists realized that the automatic naturalization annually of thousands of immigrant women married to Americans was fuel for the antisuffrage charge that women's enfranchisement would swell the number of foreign-born, foreign-thinking voters. Immigrant women who became Americans by marriage did not take a naturalization examination or even the standard oath of allegiance, and these facts provoked criticism of the government's naturalization policies from both sides of the suffrage debate.

Suffragists argued forcefully for an end to marital naturalization. At the same time they offered the immigrant woman a nod of respect they steadfastly withheld from the alien man. J. Maud Campbell, lecturing to the Boston chapter of NAWSA on the competence of the foreign-born woman as voter, assured her listeners that the foreign-born woman was more reliable than her male counterpart. A woman's vote could not be purchased, she argued; and, as a mother and voter, this immigrant would support the child-welfare legislation NAWSA endorsed.[14]

As Campbell's comments suggest, suffragists were willing to adjust the image of the female citizen as a community-oriented mother and conscientious voter to fit both the native-born and the naturalized woman. In 1917 the Woman Citizen (successor to the Woman's Journal )


printed a reassuring message on this particular subject for its predominantly native-born readers entitled "Why Worry?" "To suffragists," observed the author, "the foreign-born are a hope and a promise. . . . Seeking the vote, suffragists have come to know what and how much the foreign-born have to offer America. They have come to know it through coming to know foreign-born women, their habits of thrift, their intensive neighborliness, the pathetic yet inspirational quality of their concern in their children's advancement."[15]

While suffragists denounced the political practices of the male alien, they spoke more confidently of the foreign-born woman's potential as conscientious citizen, and their urban-based suffrage organizations established voting-preparatory programs to ensure that immigrant women fulfilled that promise. Some states' enfranchisement of women naturally intensified interest in providing this training for immigrant women. Mary Dreier, a member of the New York voter-education committee, noted that more that two hundred thousand women in New York City alone had already been naturalized through marriage. When the state adopted woman suffrage in 1917, these women could register to vote, but Dreier feared their voting preparedness had never been truly tested. "They alone have remained in the backwater," she declared.[16]

Other suffragists shared the suspicion that the world of the immigrant mother was too often defined by the narrow boundaries of her ethnic neighborhood, and they criticized the federal government's method of naturalizing foreign wives for perpetuating that isolation. For immigrant women, they insisted, practicing good citizenship required not only receiving citizenship training but gaining citizenship independently. With proper instruction, the foreign-born woman could


learn to take full advantage of the benefits of living in a democratic and modern society, but her independent naturalization was an essential step in that civic education.

Perhaps no group of private citizens expressed more concern for the fitness of the foreign-born wife in this respect than suffragists. Undeniably, NAWSA's and other suffragist-sponsored citizenship-training programs for immigrants were self-serving as well as philanthropic. Equal-suffrage proponents needed to reduce public wariness that passage of a national woman suffrage amendment would invite a host of ignorant female voters to the polls.[17] And NAWSA's commitment to civic training for the immigrant woman certainly did not lead to a moderation of its demands for selective voting standards or dispel members' deeply ingrained conviction about the superiority of American values and citizenship. Many of the organization's members had embraced the ethnocentric rationale for "Americanizing" the immigrant, and a belief in the unique assets of both their sex and their country's "100 percent" citizenry fed their interest in civics classes for the foreign-born woman.[18]

"The proper education of a man decides the welfare of an individual," Catharine Beecher had observed, "but educate a woman and the interests of a whole family are secured."[19] Americanizers reflected a similar faith in the impact of the foreign-born mother's assimilation. Indeed, argued one, "her family's chance to become a social unit in the new world depends on it."[20] The advocates of the immigrant mother's


Americanization could be found on either side of the debate over marital naturalization. The defenders of marital naturalization insisted that the foreign-born wife's immediate assumption of her husband's nationality ensured her family's internal stability, while the critics of marital naturalization argued that derivative citizenship allowed women to achieve citizenship effortlessly and thus discouraged their assimilation. The practice did nothing to promote family unity, they complained, but rather fostered tense relations between the un-Americanized mother and her assimilated child.[21]

Just as the ideology of republican motherhood designated the citizen mother the purveyor of cultural values, Americanizers represented the immigrant mother as the key to her family's successful absorption into the dominant culture. Assimilationists praised the immigrant woman for her devotion to her family but wished to draw her into a larger world where American customs prevailed. Her stubborn adherence to the conventions of her native country, they warned, would eventually disrupt her family. As the unassimilated immigrant wife and mother gradually lost touch with the ways of her Americanized husband and children, her authority within the home would deteriorate: "The child comes home from school in her American clothes; the husband and brother come home in American uniforms or store clothes, but the mother still wears her shawl on her head or goes bareheaded and clings to her old country clothes. And picturesque though she is, pretty soon the daughter and husband go out without her. She loses her hold and the family morale is gone. America will become Americanized just in proportion as American life finds its place at the fireside."[22] "The immigrant


woman is the last member of her family to be reached by American influence," cautioned one social worker.[23] Yet, added another, the English-speaking woman was "one of the strongest bulwarks against social unrest." Mothers unfamiliar with that language lost control of their children.[24] In short, when mothers remained unassimilated, "one of the great conservative forces of the community becomes inoperative."[25]

Home teaching for the immigrant mother was the favored preventive for these domestic tragedies. As one director of citizenship training classes for the foreign-born explained: "It is not alone in the physical realm that the mother is the controlling factor. She has the responsibility, also, of maintaining discipline in the home and of determining what kind of citizens her children will become. . . . General and specific education of the mother is the only effective way to enable her to take her full responsibility in the home and in the community."[26] Home teachers sent by the government or private organizations could assist the family by providing the foreign-born mother with the cultural tools to retain proper command of her children. Once brought into the fold of the assimilated, "Mother once more will stand at the head of the household."[27]

Organizations involved in the civic training of immigrant women could not rely on one of the principal reasons men enrolled in citizenship-training classes. Federal law barred a wife from initiating her own naturalization, so taking citizenship classes did nothing to improve her chances of becoming a naturalized American. And if her husband was naturalized, she automatically acquired the status of American citizen without attending the training. Conceding that federal law did create these educational disincentives, the Citizenship Training Division of the Bureau of Naturalization made an effort to encourage the wife of the naturalization petitioner to attend citizenship classes with her


spouse. One Bureau form letter sent to these women assured the recipient that "the United States government is especially interested in you. . . . America is to be your home, and the Government knows you desire to be an American in every respect." After reminding the reader that her husband and children were being schooled in the language and customs of the country, the government encouraged her to follow that lead.[28]

According to the 1910 census, over five million immigrant women twenty-one years of age or older were living in the United States. The Naturalization Act of 1855 guaranteed that the great majority of these women could be naturalized immediately if they married American citizens. This fact prompted the editors of Immigrants in America Review to ask how the United States could rely on naturalized mothers to inculcate American values "when their understanding is largely acquired through the husband or father receiving his naturalization papers?"[29] The Woman's Home Companion likewise complained that few women attended their husbands' naturalization ceremonies: "How can they vote intelligently if they lack proper understanding and then again, how can they have proper understanding if they so utterly lack interest and desire for knowledge, even on such a day, when they should go and take the Oath with their husbands?"[30]

The head of the Bureau of Naturalization's Citizenship Training Division also questioned whether naturalized citizenship, acquired effortlessly created "100 percent" Americans. According to Bureau Chief Raymond Crist, immigrant women married to citizens were not credible Americans. "Their utter isolation from America and American contacts in the distinctly foreign atmosphere of their homes leaves them in a position to gain an entirely false notion of America," he warned. Yet, states were handing them "the reins of Government" through the gradual advancement of woman suffrage.[31] Many woman suffragists agreed with Crist, but they had other reasons for rejecting the notion that mar-


riage to a citizen was sufficient preparation for the franchise. Derivative citizenship sustained the belief that husbands invariably dictated their wives' interests, opinions, and actions—a myth equal rights advocates had to banish in order to win independent citizenship and votes for women. NAWSA maintained that it acted in the best interests of all women when the organization urged Congress to abandon the practice of derivative naturalization before the ratification of the Anthony Amendment—a move that would inevitably end or delay thousands of women's chances to become naturalized voters. Nevertheless, the advocates of independent citizenship insisted that their proposed revisions in the nationality laws benefited foreign-born women. Retiring the rule of derivative citizenship would give women the option and distinction of becoming naturalized Americans on their own merits. The immigrant woman's progression toward citizenship would become an invaluable personal experience, one which drew her out of the home, exposed her to superior patterns of thought and conduct, cultivated her appreciation of her new country, bolstered her self-esteem, and preserved her status in the household as the trustee of cultural values. Native-born feminists assured skeptical federal legislators that independent naturalization would not create tension within the immigrant family but would instead promote the wife's and mother's role as the primary assimilating force in the home.

In 1855, the limited scope of married women's civil and political rights seemed to invite the introduction of marital naturalization. In contrast, the appearance of marital expatriation in 1907 seemed untimely; its declaration of women's political dependence was better suited to that earlier era when the common law doctrine of coverture ruled and a woman suffered civil death upon marriage.[32] However, Congress did not pass the Expatriation Act of 1907 to revive the dying legal concept of coverture, although lingering presumptions about female dependence certainly informed the statute's provisions. A variety of impulses inspired this legislation—some rooted in domestic and in-


ternational policy objectives, others in patriotism or prejudice. Viewing Section 3's marital expatriation rule in isolation might lead to the assumption that the drafters of such a drastic policy were reacting to strong public pressure to divest American women of their citizenship for entering into marriages with aliens. This was not the case; rather, as the law's other provisions make clear, Congress was responding to a general demand from inside and outside the government to enact restrictive nationality and immigration laws.

The motives behind the introduction of this expatriation act were diverse, encompassing policy concerns relating to immigration control, dual citizenship, and naturalization, as well as the more nebulous matter of women's patriotism. The basic objective of the Expatriation Act of 1907 was a reduction in the number of Americans who, in the eyes of the federal government, had compromised their citizenship status by maintaining or establishing foreign ties of some type. The expatriation of women with alien spouses was only one strategy adopted by the government in pursuit of that goal.

The expatriation statute was Congress's initial response to a series of policy proposals submitted the previous year by a presidential commission appointed to recommend general changes in the country's nationality laws. In 1906, the small group of international-law experts commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt completed their study of the country's nationality laws, and their report heavily influenced the design of the 1907 law.[33] The commission had emphasized the importance of incorporating a residency requirement into the laws governing the status of naturalized adults and minors, and Congress responded readily to this cue by imposing new limitations on naturalized Americans' ability to remain abroad and preserve their citizenship. Section 2 of the 1907 law denaturalized citizens who lived in their native country for two years or in any other foreign nation for five years and revoked the naturalization papers of those with prolonged absences from the United States. The law also required a minor child to establish residence in the United States before assuming American citizenship through a naturalized father. Standing in striking contrast to this set


of suggestions from the commissioners was their proposal to ignore the significance of residence entirely in cases involving American women married to aliens. These women, they suggested, should be expatriated, whether residents or nonresidents.[34] Congress worked this advice into Section 3 of the law. An American woman who married an alien automatically assumed her husband's nationality even if she never left the United States.

These policies reflected the government's effort to avoid cases of dual nationality as well as other difficulties commonly arising from conflicts with other nations' laws governing transnational marriages. However, the new statutory rules marked a departure from the State Department's customary treatment of citizen women who married aliens. Admittedly, the status of American women in transnational marriages had remained unsettled until 1907, but a few basic rules had emerged from cases on the question. The State Department and the courts generally agreed that a citizen woman married to an alien resident did not endanger her American citizenship unless she also moved permanently to her husband's country. Although no ironclad policy evolved from the State Department's various decisions relating to nonresident women, in most instances the Department ruled that these absentees were not entitled to passports if they remained domiciled within foreign jurisdictions. The Department did not go so far as to declare these women expatriates, however, for as Secretary Hamilton Fish noted in 1876, it had never been "incontrovertibly established" that an American woman lost her citizenship by marriage.[35] Nonresident women did forfeit some of the privileges of U.S. citizenship, such as a passport or government protection abroad. but marriage to a foreigner and absence from the country at most meant the suspension of a woman's citizenship and not its revocation.[36]

This State Department policy received recognition from federal judges in a string of cases reaching back to the late eighteenth century.[37] Indeed, the residency factor never lost its relevance in such judg-


ments until the passage of the 1907 Expatriation Act. In a case decided only seven years before the passage of that statute, a federal court had ruled that a nonresident, native-born woman married to an alien was an expatriate, but the court emphasized that removal from the United States or a similar express act had to follow the marriage or a woman remained an American citizen.[38]

Prior to 1907, the majority of executive and judicial decisions did not recognize a citizen woman's marriage to an alien as an act of expatriation. However, some judges did not follow these guidelines, and the Roosevelt commission chose to argue the merits of their rulings.[39] If customary practices failed to provide adequate justification for adopting marital expatriation (and the commission admitted they did), pragmatic considerations did support the commission's advice. Internationally, marital expatriation had become a common consequence of citizen women's marriages to aliens. If the United States followed this trend, the federal government could prevent an American woman from retaining both her U.S. citizenship and her husband's nationality when she married—an outcome the State Department strongly supported. The


provisions of the new law satisfied the Department's interests in stemming absenteeism among American citizens as well as dual citizenship. If, as the Department asserted, too many naturalized citizens were leaving the United States shortly after receiving naturalization papers and then requesting the assistance and protection of the federal government while abroad, the law could curtail this exploitation of citizenship's privileges. In light of these objectives, the practice of denaturalizing or denationalizing American women because of foreign marriages seemed highly profitable: it not only eliminated a potential group of dual citizens but also rid the body of citizenry of another set of disloyal Americans.

Throughout their collaboration on the drafting of these new expatriation policies, the executive and legislative branches disregarded the interests of thousands of resident women who would immediately lose their U.S. citizenship upon the enactment of such a law. Some federal legislators mistakenly assumed that Section 3 of the new law was simply an affirmation of current State Department policy, but the new policy actually erased the critical distinction the State Department had long maintained between resident women and those residing outside the United States. The new law expatriated both groups.

Congress designed the 1907 statute to single out Americans it presumed had forsaken their allegiance to the United States through the assumption of either a foreign residence or a foreign husband. Before and after the passage of this law, maintaining a foreign domicile was the most common reason for expatriation—a fact that rendered the expatriation of resident female citizens for mere marriage even more exceptional. A woman's wedding vows now served as a renunciation of her premarital citizenship and allegiance. Her right to remain a citizen or become one, to vote or exercise other political perquisites of American citizenship, to reside in the United States without threat of deportation or expatriation, to enter certain occupations, to re-enter the country after an absence abroad, to enjoy the protection of the U.S. government while traveling outside the country, and to secure American citizenship for her children was now wholly dependent on the citizenship of the man she wed.

The policy arguments employed to justify the imposition of these uniquely burdensome citizenship standards were closely linked to the government's interest in restricting immigration. Not only the State Department's claim that an increasing number of Americans were abusing the privileges of their adopted citizenship but also native-born


Americans' anxiety over the expanding population of immigrants fueled discussion about what was often dubbed the "immigrant problem." Annual reports revealing proportional changes in the ethnic composition of recent immigrants had produced noisy demands for new laws that would allow officials to survey the pool of arrivals with a more discriminating (and discriminatory) eye. Not coincidentally, Congress passed the Expatriation Act of 1907 the year immigration from southern and eastern Europe peaked.

Congress did not undertake the construction of a comprehensive plan for reducing immigration until the first few decades of the twentieth century. The law of nationality, which had remained virtually unrevised since the 1870s, simultaneously underwent intense review. Although the timing of marital expatriation's statutory debut seems peculiar when contrasted with the era's general trend toward the improvement of married women's legal status, its appearance in 1907 is much more comprehensible once it is placed on the time line marking major legislative trends in the country's nationality and immigration policies.

Surprisingly little ink was spent defending the new policy of marital expatriation prior to its implementation. Magazines and newspapers occasionally reported outbursts of public indignation over American women's marriages to foreigners, but such scattered eruptions had never coalesced into organized protest. What did emerge from the public's otherwise dimly formed views on transnational marriages was a highly unflattering stereotype of the American woman who wed an alien. By popular report this woman was a young heiress, and not only did her rich American parents have the bad taste to mimic the ostentatious and insipid lifestyle of Europe's nobility, but they crassly pursued foreign aristocrats for sons-in-law.[40]

The great majority of transnational marriages involving American women did not fit that socioeconomic profile, but marriages involving socially prominent families naturally attracted the most public interest and ire. Although the editors of the society pages seemed delighted to report on the foreign social engagements of the New York City—bred Duchesses of Manchester and Marlborough, these women attracted


something less than admiration in other quarters. For some Americans, a titled American was an affront to American ideals, a blatant repudiation of democratic tradition.

American society had acquired a class of families of unprecedented wealth whose opulent lifestyles stirred both popular awe and resentment. For some Americans of more modest financial means this spectacular wealth reflected the country's economic prosperity and power; for others, the extravagant materialism and aristocratic pretensions of the extraordinarily wealthy seemed downright un-American. For an American heiress, marriage to a well-settled European nobleman did often require leaving the United States, a circumstance the woman's public critics cited as further proof of her indifference toward, if not contempt for, the virtues of democratic society. Even some of the most enthusiastic supporters of American women's independence and character apparently thought the danger of this corruption real enough to warrant issuing some sobering words of caution. In 1904, the Woman's Journal carried a "Warning to American Heiresses" who might be contemplating such foreign liaisons. "Think of the suicidal folly of abandoning the cheerful freedom and rational simplicity of our democratic social life for such a fate!" the editor entreated. "Let us hope that the higher education of women may gradually wean the daughters of our millionaires from the worship of titles and aristocracy, and bring them to an intelligent appreciation of the nobility and value of American citizenship."[41]

If the sublime "New World" represented Europe democratized and purified, then the citizen woman who decided to leave its salutary environs for life in the "Old World" revealed some serious deficiencies of character.[42] Transatlantic marriages of the country's social elite were often deprecated as purely mammonistic arrangements, a characterization designed to affirm the moral bankruptcy of such unions. According to President Theodore Roosevelt, a voluble critic of foreign marriages, the American citizen who deserved the least respect was the man "whose son is a fool and his daughter a foreign Princess."[43] Such marriages were "a matter of sale and purchase," the Rev. Dr. R. S. Mac


Arthur scornfully reported to his listeners at the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. "American girls have sold their womanhood, their country, their language, and their religion for husbands who are peculiarly contemptible cads."[44]

Representative Charles McGavin of Illinois was also moved to denounce these marriages publicly and took his convictions to the floor of the House. These women were guilty of "sacrific[ing] their souls and honor upon the altar of snobbery and vice," he declared, and their existence was offensive to the memory of the virtuous pioneers who had built the country. But McGavin did not fail to honor the woman who chose not to squander her virtue in pursuit of a debauched foreigner: "While I have engaged in some criticism of those particular women who have made a mockery of the most sacred relations of life—of those not satisfied with any other name than Countess Spaghetti or Macaroni,—I want to say one word in tribute to those true American women who spurned the wiles of earls, lords, and counts for the love of His Majesty, an American citizen."[45]

The assignment of moralistic and nationalistic dimensions to women's transnational marriages, the increasing anxiety about the visibility and loyalties of the immigrant population in the United States, the government's concern over the rising number of foreign-domiciled and dual citizens, and, perhaps most immediately, the executive commission on nationality's 1906 report to Congress were all factors helping to set in motion the extension of derivative citizenship to citizen women.

Congress did not engage in a struggle with woman's rights groups over marital expatriation before the passage of the 1907 statute. In fact, virtually no substantive public debate about this took place prior to its imposition. The nationality commission submitted its findings and recommendations, and in less than a year the country had a new law declaring that marriage to an alien man was an act of expatriation.


Woman's rights groups were uncharacteristically unprepared to thwart this major legislative move by their national government. Perhaps they did not try to shield titled women from these blasts of opprobrium because they silently condoned the women's indictment. In fairness to this group of politically astute and organized women, although they failed to register their complaints before the policy's placement in the statute books, there was also no evidence of a popular drive to introduce marital expatriation. The scattered denunciations of American women's European marriages never amassed enough political heft to force specific legislative remedies, a fact that probably contributed significantly to rights reformers' apparent complacency. Furthermore, woman suffrage groups, which did contribute much to the debate over derivative citizenship after 1907, might have assumed their allies in Congress would apprise them of impending legislative action affecting their campaign for citizenship rights. Yet, it appears that women's groups were not consulted.

Woman suffragists had appeared heedless of the injustices of dependent citizenship until its rules began to prey on the rights of native-born women. Women's disfranchisement and marital expatriation were kindred problems. Both issues highlighted the legal impediments standing between the woman citizen and her achievement of an independent political identity. As the two gravest political disabilities suffered by citizen women, these two barriers to equal citizenship rapidly attracted broad-based and intense opposition from woman's rights advocates after 1907.

The strong link between independent citizenship and woman suffrage, now apparent to the two causes' defenders, gained public confirmation when marital expatriation's impact on women's voting rights in suffrage states became more explicit. In states where women had gained the vote, foreign- born women naturalized by marriage were able to register to vote while native-born women with alien husbands were turned away. Leaders of the woman suffrage movement protested that the government had once again invited a group of foreign-born residents to exercise a fundamental political right still denied most native-born women, but support for the repeal of Section 3 of the new expatriation law was unlikely to collapse under this attack. Marital naturalization and expatriation were the prevailing international policies governing transnational marriages and, from the federal government's perspective, were highly practical measures that ensured unity


of nationality within the family and a decline of dual citizenship and statelessness.

In 1915, a case before the Supreme Court involving a California woman expatriated and disfranchised by marriage did prompt some legislators to offer mild acknowledgments of marital expatriation's inequitable effect. Ethel Mackenzie, a resident of San Francisco, had begun her fight against Section 3 in the California Supreme Court.[46] She had lost her American citizenship when she married a noncitizen and then her right to vote when California women gained that privilege. Mackenzie was a member of the Club Woman's Franchise League and had been an active participant in her state's voter-registration drive. When her state's highest court declined to challenge the constitutionality of the law that had transformed her into an alien, Mackenzie sought relief in the country's highest court. She could have avoided a long and costly court battle by allowing her British husband to apply for naturalization (which he was willing to do), but Mackenzie possessed both the financial means to challenge the law and the conviction that she should fight for the political rights due her sex. Regaining her citizenship through marital naturalization, she realized, "would still avail nothing to other women."[47]

In their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mackenzie's counsel contended that Section 3 had deprived her of U.S. citizenship without her express consent, thus violating her constitutional guarantee of due process. Ethel Mackenzie had never physically or willingly placed herself under the jurisdiction of the British government.[48] Furthermore, argued her lawyers, Congress's power to make uniform laws governing naturalization did not furnish that body with the power to denational -


ize citizens.[49] Decades later, when constitutional understandings of due process and civil liberties could provide more comfortable accommodations for such arguments, some Supreme Court justices would question the integrity of legislative expatriation; but in 1915 the Court refused to declare Section 3 an undelegated exercise of federal power. Rather, declared the Court unanimously, "as a government, the United States is invested with all the attributes of sovereignty, and has the character and powers of nationality, especially those concerning relations and intercourse with foreign powers."[50] Justice Joseph McKenna, speaking for the Court, also dismissed the suggestion that derivative citizenship was a decrepit principle due for burial in coverture's graveyard. "The identity of husband and wife is an ancient principle of our jurisprudence," he wrote. "It was neither accidental nor arbitrary, and worked in many instances for her protection. . . . It has purpose, if not necessity, in purely domestic policy; it has greater purpose, and it may be, necessity, in international policy."[51]

Ethel Mackenzie had married a couple years after the passage of the 1907 act, a fact that allowed the Supreme Court to avoid examining one of the more controversial aspects of the expatriation law's operation—the denationalization of women married to aliens prior to 1907. The argument that American women's marriages to noncitizens were voluntary acts of expatriation seemed logically insupportable when applied retrospectively to pre-1907 marriages. Federal officials' explanation for this seemingly indefensible policy—that Section 3 was simply a belated legislative acknowledgment of a marrying woman's obvious intentions—was unpersuasive and inaccurate.[52]


Legal scholars speculated about the limits of legislative expatriation in the wake of the Mackenzie decision, but most concluded that the Supreme Court had not veered off course while navigating in some poorly charted waters. Meanwhile, women's organizations supportive of Mackenzie's causes seemed to abandon hope that the judiciary would force significant changes in the application of Section 3. Congress thereafter was almost the exclusive object of their appeals for independent citizenship.[53]

Nationality rights advocates heartily concurred with the Virginia Law Register's post-Mackenzie admonition that woman suffragists should "see to it that this new 'restraint upon marriage' is changed before they obtain the vote." It was far more difficult to convince Congress of the wisdom of this observation.[54] Too many legislators still thought repealing Section 3 prior to the ratification of the suffrage amendment was, to use an old saw, placing the cart before the horse. As their colleague N. E. Kendall of Iowa bluntly put it, women had "waited several thousand years for the suffrage privilege," so surely they could "wait a little longer."[55]


Federal legislators rarely acknowledged the full impact of the losses a resident woman incurred because of marital expatriation. Immigration laws were turning alienage into an increasingly precarious status. In addition to being denied a voice at the polls, women married to aliens could be excluded or expelled from the United States, denied access to or fired from certain occupations (including female-dominated professions such as public school teaching), and exempted from many public-assistance programs. The situation only worsened during World War I, when the government classified women as "alien enemies" if their spouses were citizens of the Central Powers. These women received a shocking lesson in the perils of alienage when the Alien Property Custodian confiscated their property.[56]

Although pitted against powerful governmental forces, women organized to ensure that independent-nationality bills appeared at every Congressional session between 1913 and 1922. Most of these proposals died in committee. Media treatment of Mackenzie's case matched Congress's myopic approach to derivative citizenship. The California newspapers appeared generally sympathetic to Mackenzie's plight and faithfully reported on her losses in the courts. The state press's coverage, however, did not extend the discussion of Mackenzie's expatriation beyond her loss of voting privileges and thus failed to explore fully the penalties incurred by a resident's involuntary expatriation. Readers with no or limited knowledge of the relevant law would have assumed from newspapers reports that the 1907 statute fell with greatest force on well-to-do, native-born women who had married foreign men of social distinction.[57] Some months after Mackenzie's defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court, the San Francisco Chronicle revisited the subject but continued to obscure the fundamental nature of the case with the following headline: "S.F. Women Are Hit by Court Ruling. Many Socially Prominent Who Are Wed to Aliens Must Relinquish Voting Right." Ethel Mackenzie's picture appeared adjacent to the article, decoratively surrounded


by photographs of marital expatriates Baroness Van Eck, Countess von Faulkenstein, and Baroness von Brincken—all "socially prominent" San Franciscans.[58] The local newspapers' preoccupation with Ethel Mackenzie's and her husband's social pedigrees came dangerously close to conjuring up that troublesome stereotype of the American heiress.

"If Mackenzie Gordon, member of the Bohemian and Family clubs, and gifted singer, was not blessed with an artistic temperament, which disapproved of contact with prosaic immigrants, this story never would have been written," observed the editors of the San Francisco Call .[59] Too often newspaper reporters proved more adept at displaying their class biases than communicating the chief merits of Mackenzie's case. Californians who read the society pages for news of their social peers may have sympathized with the baronesses and duchesses of American birth who lost their citizenship, but elsewhere such stories risked arousing contempt rather than pity.

Newspapers' miscasting of the controversy as a suffrage issue dogging the country's social elite and Congress's determination to postpone serious discussion of marital expatriation until after ratification of the woman suffrage amendment both reflected a general weakness in the country's comprehension of this issue. The preoccupation with disfranchisement in the 1910s suggested the difficulties of altering public sensibilities. As long as a woman was unable to exercise the same citizenship rights as a man, it was difficult to convince federal legislators and many of their constituents that her denationalization had profound and damaging personal consequences.

When women were denied the right to vote regardless of their nationality, they could not argue that a loss of U.S. citizenship was responsible for their political disabilities. However, in this respect Ethel Mackenzie's case was genuinely distinctive, and this fact probably gained her some public sympathy. Federal law had authorized her expatriation because she was a woman married to an alien, but the state of California had denied her the vote because she was no longer a citizen. Mackenzie had indeed lost a key political right she would have exercised if she had not married—and this fact furnished her denationalization with a loss tangible enough for Congress and the public to perceive.


Much of the public discussion surrounding Mackenzie P. Hare had provided only a superficial glance at the problem of dependent citizenship. Yet, the media's tendency to highlight the expatriate's loss of voting rights did have some benefits. Woman suffrage, an issue that already enjoyed broad popular recognition, provided a familiar context in which to introduce the more complex and less understood issue of marital expatriation. And the public recognized that once woman suffrage became Constitutional law, many more women would share Mackenzie's loss.

Predictably, negative reaction to Mackenzie was strongest among woman's rights supporters. Ethel Mackenzie as suffragist and citizen had belonged to a national congregation of female activists committed to achieving equal citizenship, and her demotion from the rank of citizen deeply incensed her sisters in the cause of woman's rights. From their perspective, Mackenzie's disownment represented the federal government's lack of regard for even its most respectable and active female citizens. When one of their number, Jeanette Rankin of Montana, became a member of the House of Representatives, her presence held more than symbolic significance for woman's rights advocates. Rankin, a supporter of equal nationality rights, introduced a bill in 1917 to amend the offending Section 3 of the 1907 Expatriation Act, and her proposal netted women's organizations their first formal audience before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization to discuss the issue of marital naturalization.[60]

By the time this inaugural hearing on independent citizenship was held, however, World War I had agitated the country's antiforeign anxieties. The war had intensified public demands on the woman citizen to reaffirm her patriotism and provoked insistent demands from suffragists for the enfranchisement of American women, who had faithfully kept the home fires burning. Although the U.S. involvement in World War I may have given the suffrage movement a boost, it initially had the opposite effect on the campaign to abolish derivative citizenship. As the 1917 House hearing on the Rankin bill revealed, the Con-


gress that was calling on all citizens to demonstrate the full measure of their loyalty had little patience with sympathetic pleas on behalf of women suspected of forsaking their citizenship for a foreign husband.

Although the Rankin bill was the first to prompt a hearing on marital expatriation before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, it ultimately suffered the same fate as preceding bills concerning married women's nationality. The hearing on the bill revealed Congressmen's less than cordial feelings about the proposed amendments as well as the women they would assist.[61] When some Committee members began verbally attacking American women with foreign husbands, the supporters of the Rankin bill recklessly retaliated by questioning the loyalty of certain groups of foreign-born women. The interests of both foreign and native-born women suffered in the debacle. Indeed, the most vivid message reformers conveyed to the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization was that they were willing to exploit the native-born American's wariness of the immigrant to advance their cause. At the hearing, this communication found no friendly listeners on the Committee.

Ellen Spencer Mussey, one of the founders of the Washington College of Law, was also the author of the Rankin bill.[62] Then dean of her law school and an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mussey hoped to convince Committee members that the restoration of women's nationality rights met a patriotic objective. Native-born women married to aliens wanted to fulfill the responsibilities of American citizenship, but the Expatriation Act of 1907 blocked their advance. This emphasis on the duties rather than the privileges of citi-


zenship certainly had served the cause of woman suffrage well, and in an environment friendlier than this hearing Mussey might have had more success employing it. In an attempt to draw sympathy for expatriated women, she noted that although the federal government did not classify a German-born woman married to an American as an alien enemy, it did consider a resident, native-born woman an alien enemy if she had married a citizen of one of the Central Powers before the war.[63] Acting on the assumption that a woman's political loyalties inevitably followed her spouse's, the federal government had confiscated property worth over $25 million from former citizen women with alien enemy husbands.[64] Members of the House Committee appeared unmoved by Mussey's facts. Instead, Harold Knutson of Minnesota used the moment to reflect on the dear price the country might pay for the marriage of a German spy and a wealthy American heiress. Couldn't this wife "secretly and quietly furnish these millions to her husband to assist in destroying the boys of our country?" he asked.[65]

Generous in its criticism of citizen women who married aliens, the Committee reserved its sympathy and respect for the woman who married an American man. The women testifying at the hearing were baffled and distressed by this blatant display of bias, but Representative John Raker of California had a simple explanation for his and his colleagues' partiality. The immigrant wife of an American was hardly capable of disloyalty, he announced confidently, because "under the tutelage of her kind American citizen husband she has become an American and patriot at heart."[66] Mary Wood of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, however, wanted the Committee to understand that she was there to champion the interests of the native-born woman. She


did not come to plead for "the Claudias, the Consuellos, and the Imogenes" but for the wronged "plain Janes and plain Marys" who had married loyal immigrant laborers.[67] And Kate Waller Barrett proudly made a similar confession when she reassured the Committee that "whatever laws you pass restricting naturalization will have the support of the united intelligent womanhood of this country."[68]

The Committee members, however, preferred to direct their anger rather than praise at the American woman who married a foreign man. "She becomes 'Countess So-and-So' and is an American citizen; that is not my conception of democracy," fumed Knutson.[69] Mussey pointed out vainly that only a small percentage of those American women with foreign husbands actually received titles by marriage, but this information provoked no sympathetic responses from the Committee.[70] Even Raker, an ally in the woman suffrage cause, revealed no compassion for the expatriated woman. In his view, it was a "clear, open, broad daylight, voluntary surrender of citizenship" when a native-born woman married a foreigner. But Kate Devereaux Blake refused to let the California Congressman's remark go into the record unrebuked. "Every question you asked this morning has been from . . . the standpoint of the man who is safe in his citizenship," Blake declared indignantly. "You have your citizenship; we love ours."[71]

From the perspective of the women testifying, the hearing was a failure. No point they raised proved capable of eliciting a constructive exchange of views with the Committee members. The Rankin bill would have saved many resident women from the dilemma of having to choose between husband and country, but its detractors insisted that allowing women to retain American citizenship and foreign spouses only encouraged "mixed" marriages and drained financial resources away from the


United States. And there was the crucial question of national loyalty. Snubbing that national icon, the citizen man, was a serious transgression. As one Committee member remarked, the hazards of such marriages were "a good lesson to our American girls to marry American boys."[72]

The battles at the hearing belied the fact that the Rankin bill did not propose to alter the rules for naturalizing alien women; its provisions would have affected only resident, American-born women. But the defenders of the bill failed to remind their audience of this fact and, in general, fumbled their way through their first formal hearing before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. They seemed unprepared to confront a barrage of criticism and too often responded recklessly with recriminations against foreign-born women. Judging from the tenor of the hearing and the subsequent fate of the Rankin bill, the supporters of independent nationality gained little satisfaction or no converts from this audience with the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. Nevertheless, the Rankin bill hearing was a historically significant confrontation. It was a benchmark event, organized women's first opportunity to present their case for independent citizenship before a Congressional committee. In many hearings over the next fifteen years, defenders of independent citizenship would never again appear unprepared or unnerved by the reactions to their requests. Indeed, later hearings allowed women committed to the cause to demonstrate, and sometimes embarrass their hosts with, their expertise in the area of nationality law.

The House Committee tabled the Rankin bill, despite the impressive list of supporters, which included the National American Woman Suffrage Association, National Federation of College Women, Daughters of the American Revolution, General Federation of Women's Clubs, Woman's Relief Corps, and the International Council of Women.[73] The NWP was not oblivious to the commitments other women's groups had made to the abolition of marital expatriation and naturalization, but its most prominent leaders appeared almost unaware of this issue until it vaulted onto the reform platform in 1922.

Outside the United States, there was strong evidence of a growing interest in nationality-law reform. Some countries that expatriated citi-


zen women because of foreign marriages, including Great Britain, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and France, were considering legislation similar to the Rankin bill. Other voices within the United States also contributed to the publicizing of the domestic situation. The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, long dissatisfied with the courts' handling of immigration cases involving citizens' wives, supported ending or modifying derivative citizenship for women (albeit not with feminist convictions). Americanizers praising the virtues of "100 percent Americans" also added their voices to the debate.[74]

Interested women's organizations criticized both the defeat of the Rankin bill and the current mode of naturalizing foreign-born wives. The editors of the National Women's Trade Union League's publication, Life and Labor, called on members to promote the assimilation of those women who had been handed a ballot "on a silver platter without working for it." These women had American husbands but still knew "no more about the American Constitution than they know about the Egyptian Book of the Dead."[75] The Woman's Journal displayed a similar strain of resentment toward the naturalized immigrant wife: "Down the gangplank with the daughter of a United States President who has to pay her alien tax if she has married a foreigner may walk a foreign born woman coming to this country for the first time, who pays no alien fee because her naturalized husband awaits her on the wharf, and the moment she steps on our shores she enjoys the privileges of citizenship and the protection of our flag, because 'a married woman follows the nationality of her husband.'"[76]

According to Mary Sumner Boyd, 62 percent of foreign-born wives were able to "take their right to vote as a gift from their husbands." But, she added, "the law does not help the loyal American wife of an enemy alien husband—it only holds out to her the hope of widowhood."[77] In her book, The Woman Citizen, published a year after the


Rankin bill hearing, Boyd proposed adopting a restrictive interpretation of the 1855 statute. The courts, she urged, should recognize the marital naturalization of only those citizens' wives who had fulfilled other criteria for assuming citizenship. Boyd, unlike the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, supported this change in policy largely as a means of combating the criticism that woman suffrage would enfranchise unprepared immigrant women.[78] Although not acknowledged in her book, she also had a strong personal interest in dispelling the notion that marriage to a foreign citizen compromised a woman's loyalty to her country. Boyd had lost her citizenship when she married a British subject, and the consequences of her forced expatriation dogged her at home and abroad.[79]

Criticism of marital naturalization varied in source and argument, but the volume of this somewhat eclectic protest increased steadily. The general public's awareness of the existence and implications of the Expatriation Act of 1907 improved in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Mackenzie v. Hare and when major newspapers began publicizing the plight of former American women treated as enemy aliens by the federal government because their husbands were citizens of the Central Powers. Opposition within the federal government to independent citizenship, however, remained active. The New York Times offered the sparest yet most candid explanation for the Rankin bill's failure to win sufficient converts. To proclaim that marriage to an alien left a woman's allegiance to the United States untouched was still "asking a good deal."[80]

Even some advocates of independent citizenship for women were dissatisfied with the bill and expressed concern that its easy rules for expatriation encouraged women to adopt their husbands' nationalities. In their view, the Rankin bill did too little to dispel the notion that women were more expendable, and inherently less reliable, citizens. And the proposal had other limitations. Recouping or holding onto one's status as an American after marriage remained problematical under the plan. A resident woman who had already lost her American citizenship by marriage retrieved it by filing a declaration of intention in a natu-


ralization court, but there was no comparable provision for repatriating the nonresident woman who had already lost her citizenship under the 1907 act. Furthermore, the Rankin bill offered no assistance to women already living abroad with alien spouses—the women most vulnerable to accusations that they had abandoned the United States and their loyalties to it.

In subsequent years the women's coalition for independent citizenship would continue to find sponsors for its nationality bills, but their proposals made no significant headway in Congress prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Congressional discussions often focused narrowly on the disfranchisement of resident, expatriate women rather than on the more fundamental problem of denationalization. Lawmakers consistently underestimated the value of American citizenship for women by consistently subordinating the issue of independent citizenship to that of suffrage. Congress and the media's relatively shallow comprehension of the implications of marital expatriation was perhaps most evident in their initial reactions to Ethel Mackenzie's dilemma. When the House of Representatives discussed Mackenzie's fate, members often treated expatriation as incidental to her disfranchisement. Some legislators suggested that the states could remedy the situation by selectively enfranchising these denationalized Americans. National women's organizations, however, refused to promote what they considered to be a rather feeble if not evasive response to their demands for independent citizenship.

Until 1920, the suffrage issue continued to dominate the debate over equal nationality rights and thus temporarily limited the extent and gravity of that discussion. When federal legislators thought about female citizenship, they focused first (and too often exclusively) on the most publicized and politicized "woman's question" of the day—voting rights. So, in 1907, when Congress discussed placing stricter controls on the adoption and retention of U.S. citizenship, legislators were not inclined to make a thorough assessment of the implications of marital denationalization for the woman citizen. Ten years later, as the 1917 hearing on the Rankin bill revealed, that situation had not altered significantly enough to support reform legislation. Some members of Congress displayed their feeble grasp of the relevant issues in bombastic speeches lambasting titled American heiresses, while other legislators declared with unabashed ignorance that the loss of American citizenship could signify little to those who did not yet possess political rights.

With the restoration of peace, the diatribes against transnational


marriages grew less impassioned; and the fascination with "ducal degenerates," which some social and political commentators claimed had afflicted the country's young heiresses, was reportedly fading. The federal government's postwar response to the Alien Property Custodian's treatment of resident, expatriate women was almost penitent; and with a victorious end to the war and the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment in 1920, Congress finally seemed willing to adopt a more sympathetic view than it had in the past of the female expatriate's tribulations. Most legislators who cared about their political futures became more attentive to women's issues once their female constituents were enfranchised.

In this postwar, postsuffrage environment, the stereotype of the American heiress began to look somewhat passé, and its decline coincided with the emergence of a much more positive and powerful representation of the American woman. The Nineteenth Amendment had furnished the defenders of equal nationality rights with the political capital to build a new image of the woman citizen—a citizen whose devotion to country was not only equal in value but identical in nature to that of her male counterpart. The titled heiress had represented a betrayal of American values. The new female voter was, in contrast, a glorious symbol of American democracy. Nowhere was this affirmation of democracy's virtues linked so closely to woman suffrage and independent citizenship as in the image of the voting immigrant woman fashioned by the advocates of women's nationality rights, that woman for whom arrival in America promised a journey toward cultural enlightenment and political empowerment—but only if the federal government consented to abolish derivative citizenship and enfranchise its female citizens.

The women's organizations that continued to lobby for equal nationality rights after 1920 also had to confront the limitations of their popular, presuffrage representation of the model citizen woman—a woman for whom devotion to family was the truest test of her civic virtue. As long as the woman citizen had limited access to those traditionally male activities that identified an individual as a good citizen (voting, holding public office, military service), necessity had required that she claim alternative sources of public influence and credibility as a citizen. The public commitments and private responsibilities of the woman citizen had consequently remained largely undifferentiated, and women's citizenship appeared complementary rather than identical to the male model.


This image of the woman citizen could destroy as well as advance her good standing in the public eye. If her civic obligations were so tightly bound to familial duty, it was not unreasonable to suggest that a woman's selection of a spouse could be a reflection of the strength of her loyalty to country. Giving this suggestion the force of law, the Expatriation Act of 1907 revealed the punishing side of a gendered construction of American citizenship that had long assured a measure of respect to the married woman citizen.

After the war, the iniquitous Countess No-Account also found herself increasingly challenged by a strikingly different but also clichéd version of the marital expatriate. The creation of woman's rights proponents, this postsuffrage female expatriate had not abandoned her country; indeed, she always preferred the superior company of Americans. She was native-born, educated, active in civic affairs, supportive of the Americanization movement, and devoutly patriotic. In sum, she was the era's model citizen even though an absurd legal technicality labeled her an alien and denied her a political voice. This was the image of the female expatriate reformers most often paraded before House Committees throughout the 1920s. As a response to the opponents of independent citizenship, her appearance attested to the growing presence of woman's rights groups in the debates over marital expatriation; but her creation did not immediately ensure her credibility. It took more than a decade to convince legislators that in all her various forms this former American was worth reclaiming.


previous chapter
Chapter 2 America's Prodigal Daughters and Dutiful Wives: Debating the Expatriation Act of 1907
next chapter