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Chapter 5 Living with the Law: The 1930s
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Chapter 5
Living with the Law: The 1930s

I am not a chattel. As a free human being, an individual unit of a sovereign people, the undisputed possessor of my own means of livelihood, I deny the right of Congress to legislate away my citizenship.
—Rebecca Shelley, marital expatriate, "Statement to the Naturalization Court before presenting my Petition for Repatriation" (1931), in Papers of the National Woman's Party, 1913–1972

The first decade of the 1900s was a frustrating one, offering few rewards to American woman suffragists who had hoped a new century would quicken the inauguration of a new era in the history of woman's rights. Across the Atlantic in Great Britain, however, suffragettes under the leadership of the magnetic Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst had entered a vigorously militant phase in their struggle for a political voice. Lured by the verve of the Englishwomen, several spirited American suffragists embarked for England to work with the Women's Social and Political Union; among them were Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Emma Wold, Alva Belmont, and Harriot Stanton Blatch. The American proselytes returned to the United States determined to revitalize the domestic suffrage movement, but their plan to reinvigorate the cause by duplicating the tactics of the Women's Social and Po-


litical Union found little favor with the leaders of the more conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).[1]

Alice Paul and her cohorts never found NAWSA's activities an entirely satisfactory outlet for their energy and ideas, and NAWSA's leadership, in turn, grew wary of these upstarts. The promotion of the nationalization of the suffrage campaign annoyed those leaders within NAWSA who still favored a state-based approach; and the Paul faction's insistence that the political party in power should be held responsible for women's disfranchisement also seemed too partisan and uncompromising for the movement's moderates. After forming the Congressional Union (CU), Paul and her followers still desired to maintain their formal association with NAWSA, but the differences between mainstream NAWSA members and the Union proved too disquieting. When Paul submitted the CU's request for readmission as an auxiliary member of NAWSA, the National Executive Council rejected the application; by 1914, the CU was operating independently. Some CU members in suffrage states had formed the Woman's Party, and in 1917 the branch and trunk became the National Woman's Party.

Unlike the nineteenth-century split within the suffrage movement, the divide between NAWSA and the NWP grew increasingly difficult to span.[2] The publicity-seeking NWP earned both ardent admiration and fierce criticism for its confrontational tactics. Among suffragists, many feared that the NWP's actions would repel some tentative supporters of the cause, particularly crucial Congressional Democrats. The NWP's leaders were undaunted by unfriendly responses to their stratagems, which included picketing the White House, fueling "watch fires" with copies of President Woodrow Wilson's speeches, and staging highly publicized prison hunger strikes. After the achievement of


woman suffrage and throughout the interwar years, the critics of the NWP remained plentiful, while the Party's numbers dwindled.

In August of 1920, the critical thirty-sixth state ratified the Anthony Amendment, but clashing strategies and principles still divided the women who had helped secure the national victory. Equipped with new political power, women's organizations began to debate new priorities, sorting and ranking those miscellaneous issues they believed should command the immediate attention of the woman voter. While the members of the new Women's Joint Congressional Committee (WJCC) preferred a steady but moderately paced agenda for securing equal citizenship rights for women, the NWP envisioned rapid and revolutionary progress. More immediatist in spirit and intrepid in action than the WJCC's members, the NWP soon fastened its postsuffrage hopes to a Constitutional amendment that would ensure legal equality between the sexes.

NAWSA had naturally dissolved with the appearance of the Nineteenth Amendment, and the new National League of Women Voters (NLWV) picked up many NAWSA veterans. The NLWV adopted a broad postsuffrage reform agenda that included (to name a handful of platform planks) the abolition of child labor, the elimination of discrimination against women in the civil service, compulsory civics classes in public schools, and independent citizenship for married women.[3] In contrast, within a year of the suffrage victory the NWP's Alice Paul hinted that her organization would pursue legal equality between the sexes through blanket legislation. As Nancy Cott observed, the pronouncement suggested that the NWP would operate much the same as it had during the suffrage campaign. "It remained," Cott notes, "an autocratically run, single-minded and single-issue pressure group."[4]

Paul, the NWP's dynamic and charismatic leader, hoped a new campaign would restore female reformers' ebbing sense of unity, but she mistakenly assumed that her organization's equal rights amendment could serve that purpose.[5] Ironically, the NWP's promotion of that amendment (sometimes referred to as the Lucretia Mott amendment)


contributed to the philosophical stalemate that diminished communication and cooperation among feminists between the world wars. Instead, feminists' commitment to women's nationality rights proved better able than an equal rights amendment to fill the psychic void left by the ratification of the suffrage amendment.

The debate over protective legislation for women quickly provided a focal point for organized women's heated exchanges over the NWP's proposed blanket amendment, and the conflict threatened to polarize feminist politics between the world wars.[6] Although some reformers argued passionately that legislation singling out women for special protection and assistance had emancipative economic value for women, confirmed equalitarians vehemently disagreed.

Suffragists had made the independent woman citizen emblematic of women's achievement of equal political rights but had managed nevertheless to defer confronting the vast social and economic implications of legislating equality. The equal rights amendment forced such an engagement and thus stirred a host of organized women to begin to articulate the goals feminist citizens should and should not strive to accomplish for their sex. As the debate over the Mott amendment confirmed, former suffragists failed to reach unanimous agreement on a reform agenda. "The political rights of citizens are not properly dependent upon sex," concluded Florence Kelley, "but social and domestic relations and industrial relations are."[7] The NWP disagreed with the latter part of Kelley's statement—vehemently—but her words revealed why the issues of suffrage and nationality rights offered better opportunities for building consensus among female reformers than an equal rights amendment. Women's assumption of equal nationality rights was generally categorized as a political-rights issue. So defined, the campaign for women's nationality rights could keep the equal versus different debate, which was raging so forcefully on other fronts, partially at bay.

Prior to women's national enfranchisement, suffrage proponents could speak less self-consciously about "equality" between the sexes; but in the postsuffrage years, feminists' discussion of how to achieve


such "equality" necessarily traveled beyond the neatly defined realm of political rights into some underexplored territory. As the outlines of the equality debate grew increasingly large and complex, so naturally did feminist discourse. Those women's organizations wedded to the idea that women as a group had special needs and interests that should be addressed through legislation fiercely resisted ideologues' sweeping and unqualified definition of—and pursuit of—gender equality. Although some feminists continued to propose that legislation must reflect that women were both equal to and distinct from men, equalitarian feminists condemned such a notion as a deadly contradiction.

In the face of fervent resistance to the equal rights amendment they set before Congress in 1923, the leaders of the NWP only grew more convinced than before that they were the true apostles of women's liberation. As the editors of the NWP's publication, Equal Rights, boasted: "The thing that marks the Woman's Party off from the other groups in the woman's movement in America is more subtle and more inflexible than any verbal credo. . . . It alone . . . holds beyond any possibility of compromise that women are the equals of men; it repudiates both privileges and disabilities based on sex in every sphere of human activity, and it possesses both a program of action designed to remove the remaining forms of the subjection of women, and the spirit to see the program through."[8]

At the height of the interwar debates over the nature and necessity of equality, major women's groups managed to maintain an undeclared alliance for pursuing women's nationality rights. The NWP and the WJCC's subcommittee on nationality lobbied steadfastly to abolish the same discriminatory clauses in the immigration and nationality laws. Despite this semblance of unity, the NLWV, the principal member of the WJCC subcommittee, later accused the NWP of disrupting the campaign for nationality rights by using that worthy reform effort to prop up their misguided quest for an equal rights amendment. The major piece of evidence supporting this accusation was the NWP's promotion in the 1930s of a global treaty banning sex discrimination in nationality laws and practices. This attempt to rechannel the rhetoric and rationale of equal nationality rights may have seemed inconsequential to neutral observers, but for the women involved in the heart of the campaign it was a critical moment. Comprehending the import of


a treaty guaranteeing equal nationality rights, the NLWV broke openly with the equalitarians by condemning the treaty, refusing thereby to submit to a logic of reform that sprang from a feminist vision hostile to its own.

Interwar feminists had agreed that American women must assume "full citizenship rights" in order to function as independent American citizens. But what did this mean, even within the context of the nationality-rights campaign?

The movement for independent citizenship had offered a partial recess from the fatiguing internal struggles among organized women in the 1920s, but it was apparent by the 1930s that sustained cooperation among this broad base of reformers was possible only as long as the drives for an equal rights amendment and for legislation guaranteeing equal nationality rights remained separate. When the NWP proposed the ratification of a treaty for equal nationality rights, it deliberately broke through the boundaries between the two causes that the NLWV so desired to maintain.

In the years between the world wars women were still appealing for rather than commanding citizenship's replete rights, but gaining new political ground in 1920 created space for a thoughtful consideration by organized women of the concept of citizenship. The ongoing struggle to abolish marital expatriation and naturalization provided further incentives to shape a definition of citizenship relevant to the woman of the postsuffrage era. Some woman's rights advocates identified individualism and equal rights as the essentials of American citizenship. For other veterans of the suffrage campaign, however, citizenship remained defined as much by the service and sacrifices it demanded as by the privileges and rights it bestowed. The woman who answered the call to public service was truly to be the public's servant.

Judged by the standards of either of these groups, the immigrant woman who became an American simply by marrying an American was an anomaly, a woman citizen difficult to categorize or valorize. Equalitarian feminists challenged her existence not because they believed she necessarily lacked civic talents but because they questioned the invention and perpetuation of a dependent woman citizen. For feminists more likely than equalitarians to preach the virtues of Americanization, the practice of marital naturalization cheapened the cultural and political significance of naturalization and thus the value of American citizenship. Organizations like the NLWV expressed great confidence in the foreign-born woman's potential for "good citizenship" but argued


that independent naturalization and assimilation were necessary avenues to the achievement of that state.

For the remainder of the 1920s Congress continued to focus on specific immigration reforms, but the 1930s saw a shift in attention to matters of nationality. Outside the United States, the Pan American Union's and League of Nation's developing interests in the question of women's nationality rights elevated this issue to a global concern. These international developments are the subject of the next chapter. Here the focus remains primarily on the domestic front, on the lingering problems created or aggravated by the immigration and naturalization laws framed in the 1920s, and on the voices of protest that pursued these policies across the threshold of a new decade.

The impact of the Cable Act on immigrant women—and the foreign-born wife of the American citizen, in particular—was an ongoing concern shared by the federal government and many of the women's organizations that had promoted the passage of the statute in 1922. As its earliest detractors had claimed, the Cable Act placed the country's policies on transnational marriages at odds with those honored by most countries, and by 1930 this situation had improved only slightly. Only Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Paraguay, the Soviet Union, and Uruguay imposed no special restrictions on a woman citizen's marriage to an alien.[9] Consequently, most resident immigrant women who married Americans after the passage of the Cable Act became stateless on their wedding days and remained so until they earned a naturalization certificate.

During the course of the debates over the Cable bill, many lawmakers had predicted that the citizen's foreign-born wife would not seek citizenship on her own. This absence of initiative was, however, not apparent after the passage of the Cable Act, and even those women whom the government had assumed would be least inspired to seek naturalization because they were the least Americanized—the foreign wives of foreign citizens—also defied this prediction.

The Naturalization Bureau's annual statistical reports on female petitioners for naturalization in the 1920s did not indicate whether a woman was married to a noncitizen or whether she was foreign-born or a former citizen. However, under Cable Act rules, the former American wife of an alien and the foreign wife of a citizen did not have to


file a declaration of intent. The Bureau's data on women filing declarations of intent after 1922 thus revealed the number of immigrant women seeking citizenship who were either single or married to noncitizens. The records show that the number of women submitting an official statement of their intention to become Americans more than doubled from the previous year of 1921, dropped significantly in 1930 and 1931, but then rose almost every year to reach 73,496 in 1939.[10] The dramatic increase in declarations immediately after passage of the Cable Act most likely represented the decision of thousands of married immigrant women to seek naturalization without the assistance or existence of an American husband.

Although the Cable Act's effect on immigrant women was profound, historians still know little of these women's responses to the impact of the law on their lives. Legislators, social workers, feminists, and government bureaucrats all freely expounded on the immigrant woman's needs and responsibilities, but the object of their investigation and speculation was often not present at those public forums to confirm or deny those conclusions. Too often the fact that she was foreign and feminized left the immigrant woman vulnerable to patronizing judgments regarding her political acumen and social skills. It is fortunate for her subjects and for us, then, that Sophonisba Breckinridge was the author of the principal study of the impact of the Cable Act on the foreign-born woman. Professor Breckinridge had already established her prominence in the field of social work education when she published her Cable Act study in 1931. She was also a cofounder of Chicago's Immigrants' Protective League, and her years of interaction with the foreign-born had nurtured a respectful attitude toward immigrant life and a sympathetic awareness of the challenges of adjusting to a new culture, It is not surprising, then, that Breckinridge recognized the importance of sampling foreign women's attitudes toward the Cable Act and the naturalization process in general. Her study, published as part of Marriage and the Civic Rights of Women, reflected well the convergence of Breckinridge's dual roles as social scientist and social reformer.

Breckinridge believed that most women could benefit from the opportunity to assume personal responsibility for their naturalization. Indeed, her interviewees assured her that this was true. But Breckinridge also wished to emphasize to the predominantly American readers of


her study that foreign women seeking citizenship faced significant new challenges in the post-Cable years. Many women did not possess the formal education required to pass the naturalization exam, she explained, and if these women arrived in the United States as adults, it was often difficult for them to overcome this disadvantage. Upon settling in the United States, Breckinridge observed, the immigrant woman moved "from conditions of poverty and hardship into conditions of domestic responsibility, with burdens of child-bearing, child-caring, and domestic management." Such a demanding domestic routine, she argued, gave the immigrant woman few chances to interact with the people of her adopted country. "While the man makes the contacts of his job, or his union, or his lodge, and the children make their contacts in the school, the wife and mother is without any similar opportunities."[11]

Breckinridge limited her pool of interviewees to married women of Polish ancestry who were living in the Chicago area, a sample that was small and relatively homogeneous but otherwise randomly selected from the petition files of the city's Naturalization Office. A small group of these women were former Americans who had lost their citizenship through marriage, but most of the women were foreign-born and seeking citizenship for the first time. Some in the group had successfully completed the naturalization process, while others had failed to qualify for naturalization. Despite the limitations of her method of sampling. Breckinridge's decision to let her subjects speak through her work provided a rare opportunity to hear the relatively unaltered views of foreign-born women as they candidly reflected on the Cable Act's effect on their lives.

The eight women in the group who had retrieved U.S. citizenships lost by marriage applauded the passage of the Cable Act. Yet, predictably, they all questioned the government's insistence that they submit to naturalization proceedings. The Expatriation Act of 1907, they argued, had never altered their loyalties. Why couldn't the new law simply recognize that fact and pronounce them citizens once again? Nevertheless, these women believed the Cable Act had opened new doors to the immigrant woman by encouraging her to learn English and assert a personal allegiance to the United States. Perhaps, some suggested, by her example she could encourage her husband to seek citizenship. This


cadre of women expressed the most emphatic and the most negative views of the Cable Act. Unlike the other women discussed below, these former expatriates viewed their reacquisition of citizenship as their due. Their criticisms of the Cable Act seemed to revolve around the fact that the law, by requiring them to become naturalized Americans, represented their reinstatement as citizens as a privilege bestowed at the discretion of the government rather than as their personal right. This distinction between birthright citizenship and naturalized citizenship also appeared more fully formed in the arguments presented by the female reformers lobbying for changes in the Cable Act.

The foreign-born women who had been naturalized independently also unanimously agreed that the citizenship process had bolstered their self-esteem and fostered greater interest in civic activities. Breckinridge reported that these women did not contest the notion that their naturalization was a privilege subject to whatever requirements the government might impose, and they expressed little, if any, opinion on the law that had opened the door to independent naturalization. The Cable Act was, as one woman explained casually, "just a law." But, then, this group represented the success stories—the immigrant women who had cleared the new legal hurdles and could proudly collect their naturalization certificates.[12]

These women's reasons for seeking naturalization varied, but foremost was the sobering realization that reentry into the United States was becoming more difficult and deportation more threatening. New immigration laws had magnified the disadvantages of alienage, making American citizenship appear more desirable, perhaps necessary. Another major incentive for individuals and families to pursue naturalization was the citizen's right to petition for immigrating relatives' admission. Becoming an American improved not only the individual's chances of staying in the United States but also the ability to effect reunions with family members seeking entry into the United States.

Some of the women interviewed were contributing the household's main or sole source of income because their husbands were physically unable to work. This reduction in income often left an immigrant family vulnerable to expulsion as public charges, but by becoming a United States citizen as a preventive measure, the wife could reduce the chances of the family's deportation. Women, like men, saw naturalization as a


means of adding a critical measure of stability to their family's future in the United States. Some of the interviewees remarked that becoming a citizen had also made it easier for them to buy homes or to open their own businesses.

Despite the procedural difficulties naturalization presented for many foreign-born, married women, naturalization statistics and Breckinridge's subjects challenged the prediction that the Cable Act would force a steep decline in the number of women seeking citizenship. In 1927, 549 married Polish women submitted petitions to the Naturalization Office in the Chicago. Under pre-Cable rules 174 of them could not have taken that step because they were married to aliens. The remaining 375 petitioners had naturalized husbands and, before the passage of the Cable Act, could have been automatically naturalized. Yet, these women had lost little time acquiring their own papers. Forty-one percent were naturalized within two years of their spouse's naturalization; 23 percent, between two and three years; and another 23 percent, between three and four years.[13]

Inevitably, without the guarantee of derivative naturalization, a smaller percentage of citizens' wives became Americans after 1922. Nevertheless, as the Chicago Naturalization Office's statistics revealed and the interviewed women suggested, regardless of a husband's nationality, married women had strong incentives to seek naturalization. Those who predicted that most married women would find the naturalization process too intimidating or inconvenient ignored the highly compelling reasons for achieving the protective status of citizen. The Cable Act changed the rules of naturalization, but it certainly did not reduced the advantages of acquiring citizenship. According to Breckinridge, the fundamental reality was this: "naturalization brings . . . security to the home."[14] This reality was infrequently acknowledged by the middle-class, native-born reformers who dominated the coalition for equal nationality rights and whose socioeconomic status offered them the luxury of viewing citizenship as a mandate for public service rather than a means of survival. While most of these reformers viewed naturalization as a critical stage in the foreign resident's assimilation, for many immigrant women the acquisition of citizenship serve much more basic human needs.

Several of the women Breckinridge interviewed aimed for citizen-


ship but fell short of the mark. The two major causes for failure, according to the official records, were the disqualification of one of their two required witnesses and "want of prosecution or ignorance." Most of these women felt frustrated but not defeated by their difficulties. Despite continued struggles with the English language and the fear of a second failure, a majority of these women said they intended to try again. They, too, expressed little discontent with the Cable Act, although some criticized the naturalization exam, which they thought asked few questions relevant to their lives as homemakers. The petitioners found the process a discomfiting experience but seemed to accept the necessity of submitting to some kind of civics test.[15]

Breckinridge noted that her subjects obviously possessed virtues traditionally esteemed by American society—traits evidenced best by their lives as devoted mothers. So why, she asked, did the naturalization examiner make no attempt to measure these qualities? Breckinridge suspected that the examinations carried a pronounced gender bias that caused the disqualification of many worthy female candidates. Although she did not dispute the need for maintaining some educational requirements for citizenship, Breckinridge wondered whether the standard tests "actually select on the basis of important community values."[16] Her comments framed a concern reiterated by generations of activist women.

Breckinridge also interviewed women who had never tried to take out first papers. Although problems with English seemed to be a major roadblock to naturalization, these women's economic circumstances did not distinguish them from those who had become Americans. Some of the women were struggling financially; some were not. Lack of time for concentrated study often explained their avoidance of the exam, but many had declined offers of help from friends and family in developing their language skills. All the women reported that hostility from family members was not a factor dissuading them from seeking naturalization. Although each woman offered different personal reasons for currently not seeking naturalization, a limited educational background and fears about the naturalization exam and interrogation seemed to be the most common concerns. Not surprisingly, friends' and family members' difficulties with the naturalization process added to these women's doubts


about their own chances of success.[17] Once again, however, the administration of the law rather than the implications of the law most disturbed these women.

Many of Breckinridge's subjects defied the stereotype of the retiring foreign woman who had to be coaxed out of her home to participate in the rites of citizenship. Many women exhibited the determination to overcome time, educational, or physical problems and become citizens on their own. The Cable Act had declared that naturalization would no longer be a wedding gift from the U.S. government, but most of the women interviewed recognized the advantages independent naturalization could bestow. The new law promised a resident woman increased control over her own destiny. Having an alien husband did not necessarily affect her ability to apply for citizenship, and she would have access to public assistance, which was available exclusively to citizens. Yet, Sophie Breckinridge recognized that lack of schooling, money, and time would always keep some women from approaching a naturalization court. In the end, her interviews could not erase her troubling conviction that "no friend of the foreign-born wife has urged independent citizenship."[18]

Congress, the Department of Labor, the federal courts, and influential women's organizations generally advocated, if they did not directly promote, a more stringent screening process than the one that was in place for naturalization candidates. At least one of those supporters, the NLWV, weathered some criticism for belittling the problems the Cable Act had created for married immigrant women. In response to an admonition from the National Council of Jewish Women, the editors of the League's Woman Citizen reassured the Council that it was not neglecting the unique problems of the foreign-born woman in the United States. Independent naturalization now meant citizens' foreign wives could be detained on arrival in the country, excluded, or even deported; but, argued the editors rather piously, "it has been felt that the greater good of the greater number should apply."[19]


At the same time, the Woman Citizen called for the intensification of Americanization efforts to hasten immigrant women's progression from foreign citizen to U.S. citizen. The NLWV remained keenly interested in establishing citizenship training programs for the foreign-born population. In order to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to aid the foreign-born woman, the organization's General Council approved the formation of a special committee for the study of immigrant problems in 1924. Frances Perkins chaired this committee, which boasted other distinguished members, including Julia Lathrop, Edith Abbott, Mary Guyton, and Josephine Roche. The NLWV also joined the throng of critics attacking the new immigration quota acts that divided alien and citizen families.[20] As for the implementation of the Cable Act, the NLWV did concede that "in enthusiasm for the principle [of independent citizenship], we should not overlook the possibility of softening the rigors that would lie in holding to the letter."[21]

The Interpreter, issued by the Foreign Language Information Service, carried optimistic reports on growing interest in woman's rights issues among immigrant women. One article reported anecdotally on a small-scale rebellion touched off by a "wife wanted" advertisement that had appeared in the Slovene press. The offending notice had advised divorced women not to bother to respond to the bachelor's notice for a wife. His warning elicited some rather indignant replies from women. "The letters," reported the Interpreter enthusiastically, "have been imbued with a strong sense of emancipation and equal rights."[22] Other articles in the journal announced the formation of new female organizations for political discourse and action, such as the Lithuanian Women's Citizenship Club of Baltimore or, in New York City, a female auxiliary to the Polish Democratic Club.[23] Americans commonly assumed that foreign-born women came to the United States with little or no political inclinations or experience. Thus, one of the standard gauges of a woman's progress toward Americanization was a demon-


strated interest in public affairs. In publicizing bursts of political activism among foreign-born women, these observers of the foreign-born seemed eager to demonstrate that immigrant wives, a class of aliens believed to be highly resistant to assimilation, were growing increasingly responsive to American influences. Woman's rights organizations credited any political awakening of immigrant women to the Nineteenth Amendment, the Cable Act, and their citizenship-training programs.

The NWP never matched this intense desire to Americanize the immigrant. Throughout the interwar period and beyond, the Party remained more firmly focused on feminist issues than those organizations constituting the WJCC. But there is, perhaps, a further explanation for the Party's aloofness from assimilationist efforts. The leadership of the NWP never warmly embraced the nationalistic rhetoric that so often accompanied discussions about naturalization and assimilation during this era. That particular element of the dialogue simply did not contribute significantly to the Party's conceptualization of citizenship. The NWP's fundamental goal was the achievement of absolute legal equality between the sexes—a globalized objective that rendered the national seat of a woman's citizenship almost irrelevant. But the removal of both gender and national identity from the citizenship-rights equation was unpalatable to most other women's organizations in the loose reform coalition. For them, the fact that women were seeking the rights, privileges, as well as responsibilities assigned to the U.S. citizen was crucial.

The advent of the 1930s seemed to trigger a burst of Cable Act reforms. The relationship between the WJCC subcommittee and the NWP was growing shakier, but progress toward the goal of independent citizenship proceeded rather smoothly nevertheless. The House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization had remained open to entertaining amendments to the Cable Act, and John Cable, who had returned to Congress after a short hiatus, set to work refining his original handiwork. Cable introduced a new bill in February of 1930 to repeal the ineligible-spouse disqualification for naturalization as well as the presumptive loss of citizenship for residence abroad.[24]


The bill promised changes in both the Johnson-Reed and Cable Acts. One section altered the Cable Act by removing many of the requirements for repatriation. A marital expatriate still had to apply for citizenship, but the process was shorter and simpler. She would appear before a naturalization examiner, prove she was a marital expatriate eligible for citizenship under current naturalization law, and then take an oath of allegiance. Not all women could benefit from these changes however. The government's determination to avoid supporting anyone's claim to dual citizenship limited the beneficiaries of these provisions to former Americans who were married to men eligible for naturalization and who had not themselves assumed another nationality by affirmative act.

The amending bill also offered to further ease the difficulties the nonresident woman encountered with the immigration laws by granting her nonquota immigrant status if she had lost her U.S. citizenship through marriage to an alien, marriage to an alien and residence in a foreign country, or her husband's denationalization or denaturalization. Another section of the amending bill explicitly repealed the expatriation provision in Section 3 of the Cable Act, which provided for the loss of citizenship for residence abroad. However, this bill did not furnish automatic repatriation to women who had already lost their citizenship because they married aliens and lived abroad.[25]

Acting Secretary of Labor Robe Carl White informed a Senate member of the Committee on Immigration that his Department did not oppose repealing Section 3 of the Cable Act, but he offered some reasons why Labor believed this action would have some undesirable results. Two categories of native-born women then fell under the pre-


sumptive expatriation rule. One group included women like Loretta Guignet—women who had grown up in the United States but had moved abroad as adults after marrying aliens. However, White was more concerned with the status of the other group: native-born women who had been removed to foreign countries during childhood and who now had foreign-born children. This group of women, whose size was difficult to estimate, would benefit from the repeal of Section 3.[26] If the amending bill became law, it would become much easier for these women to return to the United States and apply for citizenship. After reclaiming their original citizenship, resident women could then assist the admission of their foreign husbands and minor children as nonquota immigrants. The number of nonquota immigrants had already increased significantly, and the Labor Department was reluctant to sanction construction of yet another avenue for their entry.[27]

Despite the Department's reservations, the Cable reform bill survived a Senate vote. Gladys Harrison, who chaired the WJCC's subcommittee on amendments to the Cable Act, reported confidently that both houses of Congress were "thoroughly in favor" of the bill as it emerged


from the House.[28] The intensive involvement of women's organizations, which Cable correctly insisted was critical to the survival of the bill, did corral votes. As Senator Royal Copeland observed, "I do not suppose there is a Senator here who has not been approached by several good women who are very much interested in the passage of this bill."[29] President Herbert Hoover signed it into law on July 3, 1930.[30]

The same day Hoover gave the nod to another bill that protected women racially eligible for naturalization and married to native-born veterans of World War I from exclusion under Section 3 of the Immigration Act of 1917.[31] These two new laws assisted separated couples and brought American women a few steps closer to enjoying equal nationality rights. Nonetheless, the remaining forms of legal discrimination against women and their families were consequential. Mothers still could not transfer their American citizenship to their "legitimate" children, and in 1930 the federal government appeared still unprepared to consider correcting that inequity. As for the clause in the Cable Act barring the naturalization or repatriation of women married to aliens ineligible for citizenship, the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization remained divided over its repeal.[32]

Unlike the WJCC's subcommittees, the NWP had grown increasingly impatient with the pace of progress and by the early 1930s its leaders were pressing for a blanket bill covering equal nationality rights. The WJCC, State Department, and Bureau of Naturalization, however, did not share the NWP's enthusiasm for this remedy. Even Representative Cable declined to ally with the NWP in this endeavor, believing instead that a woman should still have to return to the United States to retrieve her lost citizenship. The NWP realized the high risks of proceeding without the approval of some of its main Congressional supporters and decided to delay its demand for a blanket bill to accommodate his reservations.[33] In turn, Cable introduced three bills to amend the Cable Act in one session of the Seventy-first Congress.


The WJCC's subcommittee on amendments to the Cable Act sent a letter to all members of the House urging support of Cable's initiative, a move that boosted the proposals' chances of surviving.[34] Within two months, the House and Senate had resolved their differences over a reform bill. Signed by the President on March 3, 1931, the new law finally removed the barriers to citizenship or repatriation plaguing women married to aliens ineligible for citizenship and women living in foreign countries.[35]

A combination of external pressures and internal incidents contributed to the Seventy-first Congress's willingness finally to abandon the controversial policies on foreign residence and spousal ineligibility for naturalization. Certainly the most significant factor was unrelenting lobbying by the country's most influential women's organizations. The act that amended the Cable and Johnson-Reed Acts had claimed an impressive group of major supporters: the NLWV, NWP, National Federation of Business and Professional Women, American Association of University Women, American Home Economics Association, National Council of Jewish Women, YWCA, General Federation of Women's Clubs, Woman's Christian Temperance Union, National Women's Trade Union League, as well as the Immigrants' Protective League and the American Federation of Labor.


The WJCC subcommittee's leadership in the movement and its cautious strategy to effect reform were critical factors leading to this phase of the campaign. It is doubtful that the nationality-rights crusade would have fared as well in the early 1930s if the NWP had dominated the scene during the 1920s. The WJCC's faith in the powers of persuasion and education had served the nationality-rights crusade well during that first post-Cable decade. Although legislators were willing to cooperate with women's organizations on nationality issues, they seemed stubbornly unwilling to tackle more than a small handful of problems at a time. The WJCC was willing to be patient. Even the restless leaders of the NWP saw the wisdom of playing by the movement's established rules if it wished to work successfully with Congress during this decade. In the 1930s, however, the pace of reform quickened as the NWP became a more confident and dominant player in the campaign.

Another strategic factor that bolstered prospects for reform was organized women's profitable campaign to keep legislators (and their constituents) informed about the consequences of the Cable Act and the immigration acts. An unfortunate but propitious incident involving one of Congress's newer members, Ruth Bryan Owen, contributed significantly to this program of education. Representative Owen had been denationalized for her marriage to a British officer but then recovered her U.S. citizenship through naturalization in 1925. After Owen's election campaign, her defeated opponent challenged her eligibility to serve, arguing that she had not met the residence requirement for the office following her repatriation. Owen, who was an advocate of equal nationality rights, gathered strong support from her Congressional colleagues and survived the investigation.[36]

Members of Congress were also aware that women's nationality rights had become the object of global attention—an awareness that probably improved legislators' concentration on the debate at home. Several other countries were wrestling with similar nationality issues, and the League of Nations was exploring the feasibility of creating international rules governing the nationality of married women.[37] In-


deed, the passage of the Cable Act amending bills in 1930 and 1931 was, in part, a Congressional response to a League of Nations convention on nationality drafted in 1930.

Despite the substantial victories for women represented by the Acts of July 3, 1930, and March 3, 1931, the country's immigration and naturalization laws and practices still disadvantaged women in transnational marriages and their families. As noted earlier, American women could not transfer their nationality to their children. And if they had alien spouses, their husbands still did not automatically receive the quota breaks enjoyed by immigrating women married to citizens or resident aliens.

The remainder of this chapter tells the stories of a diverse collection of women whose predicaments all served as reminders to nationality-rights reformers that their business was still unfinished in the 1930s. As different as these women's worlds were in many respects, their lives were all wrenchingly disrupted by their marriages to foreign citizens. Some


of the women had lost their citizenship because of these marriages; others had not. Yet all encountered some of the legal difficulties hazarded by any American woman who, as some of their contemporaries put it, had the "bad taste" to marry a foreigner.

Lillian Larch had lost her birthright citizenship when she married a Canadian in 1917. Three years later she moved to Canada with her husband and American-born daughter. In 1926 the Larches, now a family of six, returned to the United States on visitors' visas. By 1930, Larch's husband was in a Detroit hospital, where doctors declared him "feebleminded." (It is not clear why he was admitted to the hospital initially.) The city's Department of Public Welfare notified immigration officials that the family was on relief, thus prompting deportation proceedings to begin against them, with the exception of the one American-born child. Before the deportation orders were carried out, Lillian Larch's husband died. Under these circumstances Lillian Larch could most likely not have applied for naturalization under the Cable Act because she had entered the United States as a visitor not as an immigrant. Furthermore, as her sympathizers pointed out, her inability to read had probably kept her ignorant of her legal options.

The public's interest in the circumstances of the Larch family's deportation soon extended beyond the Detroit area. Immigration officials had given the family only one day to prepare for their departure to Ontario, where the destitute Larches had no friends or relatives. According to newspaper reports, the family had only the $1.50 the mother had received from the sale of a stove. But the most disturbing public revelation about the incident was the fact that Lillian Larch was an American-born woman. Larch was certainly not the first or only marital expatriate deported from the United States, but her case captured the attention of the NWP, which not only investigated the government's treatment of the family but avidly publicized the deportation.[38] The


Washington Post andNew York Times printed NWP member and benefactor Anna Kelton Wiley's vehement condemnation of the deportation. The expulsion, she declared, was a "burning indictment of the inequalities remaining in our nationality law."[39]

As the NWP had intended, publicizing the case boosted interest in reforming the Cable Act. "The Lillian Larsh [sic ] deportation case has pleased the newspapers as no other story has succeeded in doing for the past several months," reported a delighted Muna Lee, NWP's director of national activities. "It had all the popular elements, beside being [a] grand Woman's Party argument."[40]

At this point the reader might entertain the suspicion that the NWP's motives for generating this publicity were more selfish than humanitarian, but members of the NWP did appeal to Albert Johnson of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization to assist Lillian Larch's return. Johnson already knew about the case (of course), and he was reluctant to support the Larches. The country already had "too many of that kind now," Johnson told Anne Rotter of the NWP, but he did consent to call Theodore Risley in the Labor Department to see what might be done to case Larch's difficulties. Risley, however, responded that the situation had probably progressed too far to be resolved.[41] A special act of Congress might be necessary to readmit the family because the Copeland-Jenkins Act of 1928 barred the reentry of deportees. And there were other barriers to Lillian Larch's recovery of her American residence and citizenship. The Larches, along with thousands of other immigrants, had the misfortune to become public charges when the United States was suffering a severe economic crisis. Furthermore, although immigrants from Canada were not subject to a quota count, they did have to pass a literacy test. As a married woman, Larch had not been required to submit to the test when she returned to the United States for the first time; as a single woman she lost that exemption. The marriage that had robbed her of her citizenship had later protected her from exclusion from the country as an illiterate, but it would ultimately clear the way for her final deportation. As a widow Larch was bereft of her husband, her citizenship, and her country. Her experience was in many ways a testament to the dual nature of marital


dependency—a status that could simultaneously convey security against and vulnerability to the laws of expatriation and immigration.

Newspaper reports on Lillian Larch's condition offered the portrait of a woman who had lost the stamina and the will to challenge her deportation. She barely communicated with anyone, including those who wished to help her. As a frustrated official in Ontario told the Washington Post, "We are doing all we can for her but she seems to be unmoved by her predicament. She is even reluctant to give us information on which we may act. She appears not to care where she is sent."[42] The Larches' difficulties provoked a small surge of public sympathy at a time when many people feared that economic ruin could force their descent into the same numbing state of helplessness that now apparently gripped Lillian Larch. In the end Larch and her family were not welcomed back by the U.S. government. Despite the attention her situation attracted, she remained throughout the ordeal a lonely and enigmatic figure whose apparent passivity in the face of legal discrimination only added to the tragedy in her difficult life. Her pathetic story may have "pleased the newspapers" at the time, but this voiceless woman was soon forgotten by a public surrounded by too many other scenes of personal hardship.

Other individuals, strengthened by the advantages of collective protest, were able to defend themselves more successfully against the government's infringement of their Constitutional rights and privileges as American citizens. The Citizen Wives Organization (CWO) had a brief and productive life, one sustained by a single objective. The Citizen Wives were not drawn into the nationality-rights campaign by predilections for political activism. Their reasons for challenging sex discrimination in the immigration laws were, they would say, far more personal. They were Americans whose foreign husbands had been denied entry into the United States by the State Department.

The women of the CWO launched their well-organized protest at a time when Congress was preoccupied with the consequences of the economic depression. With a large number of American men out of work, the CWO's pleas for the admission of their foreign husbands were unlikely to meet with sympathetic consideration. One of the government's responses to the crisis had been a forced reduction in the number of noncitizens dependent on public relief. To this end, the Bureau of


Immigration had adopted more aggressive deportation strategies than it had used in the past, and, as illustrated by the Larch case, the Bureau swiftly exercised its authority to deport aliens who had become public charges within five years of their arrival in the United States.

Despite some calls for its suspension, the government did not halt immigration during these years of high unemployment, but the number of foreigners arriving plummeted when job opportunities in the United States dwindled. Roughly 241,700 aliens entered the United States in 1930; by 1932 that number had dipped sharply to 35,576. Immigration dropped to a level the country had not seen for a century. U.S. consulates had begun screening potential immigrants more meticulously than before in order to decrease the number of incoming aliens, and the classification of potential immigrants as aliens "likely to become public charges" (1.p.c.) reduced the number of foreigners admitted.[43] Indeed, this method of barring aliens was employed with such vigor that the practice generated some criticism within the federal government.

The escalation of 1.p.c. exclusions can be linked to President Hoover's executive order of September 1930, calling for a reduction in immigration during the economic crisis. In the summer of 1931, all diplomatic and consular officers received the following statement regarding the admission of "old-seed" immigrants: "It would seem in the case of an alien wife or minor child who is coming to join her husband or parent employed in this country there is a natural inference that the alien would not be likely to become a p.c., since the husband or parent ordinarily could be expected to take steps to prevent the member of his immediate family from becoming a charge upon the public."[44]

In the case of wives seeking their alien husbands' admission, consulates were to demand evidence from the wife that the family's income would not evaporate "by reason of any temporary disability."[45] Following Hoover's suggestion, the Visa Division advised exercising some leniency toward citizens' relatives, but the distinction it had made be


tween cases involving alien wives and husbands was not overlooked by its agents.

The evidence indicates, however, that both men and women encountered difficulties convincing officials that their petitioning spouse would not become a public charge. Many consular officers had responded overzealously to Hoover's primary directive, prompting the consul general in Montreal to report with alarm that some were "refusing thousands of applicants who are not in fact in any degree liable ever to require public assistance." He cautioned against the repercussions of such draconian measures. "The Department may not . . . realize vividly how far-fetched, not to say irrational, this interpretation [of the 1 p.c. clause] appears in the eyes of intelligent persons in Canada and elsewhere," he warned.[46] Meanwhile, at least one legislator, from New York, lodged a similar grievance against the exploitation of the 1.p.c. clause. "If a man had $25 or $50 in his pocket and a good pair of eyes and a good heart [in 1917], he was not [a] public charge." Now, he complained, "if you have $30,000 they can discriminate against you and label you p.c."[47]

Fanny Sunshine-Cypin, the president of the CWO, could personally confirm the congressman's charges. In 1931 the federal government had informed her that her Polish husband could not join her permanently in the United States because he was 1.p.c. The law left Sunshine-Cypin with two disagreeable options: abandon her American citizenship to live in Poland with her husband or remain separated from him indefinitely. Sunshine-Cypin rejected both choices, believing that she deserved a more satisfactory solution to her dilemma as a citizen and resident of the United States. Hoping to establish contact with other Americans whose husbands had been denied visas, Sunshine-Cypin placed an advertisement in a major New York City newspaper describing her situation. In a short time, over three hundred citizens separated from their husbands by the immigration laws and policies answered her invitation.[48] The women quickly established themselves in an office pro-


vided by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid and Sheltering Society in New York City.

The State Department's investigation of 165 members of the CWO revealed that the majority had married in or before 1930 and shared Jewish and Polish ancestries. Most of the wives had met their spouses for the first time on a visit to Poland or had returned to that country temporarily intending to marry childhood acquaintances. Most of their husbands lived in Poland, but a good number resided in Cuba, probably because Cuba was a nonquota country. U.S. consulate officials had assured the affianced couples that the men could join their citizen wives in the United States within six months, but President Hoover's Depression-induced executive order to limit immigration abruptly altered that timetable.

Most of the future members of the CWO had received notice shortly after marrying that their husbands were l.p.c. and thus ineligible for visas at that time.[49] The Visa Division told some of the women that the withheld visas might be granted if they could prove possession of at least $2,000 in savings. Yet, when several of the women supplied the requested evidence, skeptical officials stalled for time in order to complete their investigation of what one wag in the Department dubbed the "lovelorn Jewish wives."[50]

State Department officials suspected that individuals and organizations interested in getting Jews into the country had lent the women the required funds. In support of that theory, the American consul in Havana reported that most of the thirty-eight cases he investigated revealed sham marriages, the product of an importation network designed to get Russian and Polish aliens, particularly Jews, into the United States.[51] Reports from the consul general in Warsaw also fos-


tered suspicions. His investigation of ten women's savings accounts revealed that most were held by the same two banks. The women had deposited their funds between the closing months of 1930 and the spring of 1931 in large round amounts such as $500, $1,000, and $1,500—figures that suggested they were donations rather than savings from wages.[52]

When questioned about their resources, some of the women explained that they received the money either as repayment for a debt or as a wedding gift. Ruth Bell-Bielski, then president of the CWO, balked at such inquiries and sent an indignant reply to the State Department. Noting its skill at asking, but not answering, questions, Bell-Bielski informed the Department that it was "no concern of the consul or any other government official where the money . . . has come from."[53] As a CWO member, her circumstances were not unique. The twenty-seven year old Bell-Bielski was a naturalized American who had returned to Poland in 1930 to marry a man whom she had known in her childhood. The American consul in Warsaw had assured her that her future husband, a farmer, could leave Poland for the United States within six months of their marriage. Bell-Bielski returned home, only to discover that her husband would not be permitted to join her because the Visa Division had classified him as l.p.c. Meanwhile, her husband had become unemployed. Believing he was leaving for the United States shortly, he had not contracted for another year's work.[54]

The women had wearied of serving as a "shuttlecock to be batted about from pillar to post," Bell-Bielski announced, but Assistant Secretary of State Wilbur Carr still resisted the CWO's demands. "If we yield to these people's importunities, we might as well say goodbye to


the policy which the President inaugurated last year, which is in the interests of the people of this country.," he protested. A colleague agreed but cautioned the chief of the Visa Division that the State Department "must be careful not to give rise to any thought that these people are being unfairly treated."[55]

The Visa Division remained outwardly obdurate, convinced that some kind of plot had produced the CWO marriages. In turn, the CWO continued to deny all charges of deception and accused the State Department of sex discrimination and the destruction of American women's families. Some of the women probably did receive financial assistance from relatives, other individuals, or organizations, but this was not an uncommon practice among immigrants. Consuls continued to speculate about the legitimacy of the women's marriages, but their reports to the Visa Division did not offer sufficient proof that the marriages were fraudulent.

In the end, the CWO members' faith in the power of their political voice finally shattered the stalemate between the wives and the Visa Division. Hoping to coerce the State Department into negotiations, the women actively sought sympathetic forums in which to broadcast their stories. Meanwhile, the press and other citizens were informing President Hoover that his immigration-restriction order was afflicting American citizens, not just aliens. Emphasizing this problem, the CWO drafted the following petition and delivered it to the President: "We the undersigned CITIZENS of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, believing in the principle of the Sanctity of Family Life, respectfully petition the PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES and the HOUSES of CONGRESS to REDRESS the INJUSTICE DONE to AMERICAN WOMEN, whose Husbands, being abroad, are being denied visas entitling them (the husbands) to enter this country as First Preference Quota in accordance with the provision of the Immigration Law."[56]


Rabbinical and women's organizations, as well as members of Congress (including Samuel Dickstein, chairman of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee), sent similar pleas for relief to Hoover. Correspondence between the CWO, State Department, and other interested parties suggests that Jewish organizations in the United States were actively involved in the efforts to settle the CWO cases. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of New York had assisted in the execution of 50 percent of the visa petitions for the husbands in Cuba.[57]

The executive director of the Federation of Polish Jews in America appealed to Secretary of State Henry Stimson on the couples' behalf, explaining that many of the men had sold their businesses or relinquished their jobs in anticipation of emigration. The National Council of Jewish Women was naturally concerned, as was the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America and the Social Justice Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.[58] The NLWV and the NWP also added their voices in support of the women's cause. Abby Scott Baker of the NWP and Elizabeth Eastman of the WJCC accompanied a CWO contingent to the White House to urge support for legislation permitting citizens' husbands to enter the country as freely as citizens' wives. Almost every member of Congress from the state of New York scheduled a similar visit with the President.[59]

It was an opportune time for the CWO to place pressure on the Visa Division. The State Department could ill afford any incident that might further fuel public discontent with its consuls' actions. Despite the State


Department's firm opposition to the measure, Congress was then drafting legislation to trim these officials' authority, and the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization was holding hearings to determine whether the consuls had, as critics asserted, become "laws unto themselves."[60] Consuls enjoyed even greater autonomy than Immigration Bureau officials, whose decisions could be reversed by their Department's boards of review, the Secretary of Labor, or the courts. No law guaranteed the visa applicant the power to appeal a consul's negative decision.

State's Visa Division hoped the Labor Department would stand as its ally through the hearings, but Labor preferred to distance itself from the consul investigation and tend to its own political woes. A report issued by President Hoover's Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement in the spring of 1931 had severely criticized the administration's stringent l.p.c. policy. Reuben Oppenheimer, the author of the majority report, concluded that the Labor Department mistakenly assumed that the rising number of expulsions was "sufficient evidence of the soundness of the entire deportation system." Oppenheimer cited the widespread and unpopular effects of the l.p.c. policy on families and advised overhauling the administrative structure.[61] Both the Labor and State Departments realized that such openly critical reports on the conduct of their officials could only deal further injury to the President's plummeting popularity.

Members of the State Department voiced their fears that immigra-


tion policy was fast becoming "a football of partisan politics." It was a development the CWO was able to use to its advantage.[62] Weary of beseeching an obdurate executive department, the CWO members had realized the profitability of sharing their grievances against the beleaguered Visa Division with a partisan audience in Congress. In January 1932, members of the CWO, supported by New York congressmen, the NWP, the NLWV, and the Foreign Language Information Service, testified before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization on behalf of the husbands' admissions. The Committee members appeared generally sympathetic to the women's plight, the most hostile being the sharp-tongued Arthur M. Free of California, who badgered witnesses he suspected of "bootlegging" men into the country.[63]

Realizing that the women once casually dismissed as a group of "lovelorn Jewish wives" had now secured an opportunity to seriously embarrass the Visa Division before the House Committee, the State Department resignedly moved to expedite the CWO cases.[64] One year after the House hearing, out of the 172 cases monitored by the government, 119 of the "l.p.c." husbands had received visas.[65]

Legislation then before Congress promised to provide further assistance to some of the husbands. Earlier that year both houses of Congress had drafted bills granting nonquota status to any citizen's husband otherwise qualified to enter as an immigrant. The Senate amended this bill, which then went to conference. Samuel Dickstein, one of the legislators who had been a strong advocate of the CWO's cause, was frustrated by the Senate conferees' insistence on imposing deadlines on the nonquota entry of citizens' husbands, and complained that his opponents had "got busy over in the Senate [and] told all kinds of bugaboo stories." Now people believed that if this bill passed, "the gates of


the United States would be thrown open to all the world."[66] In the final stages of negotiation the conferees agreed to retain some time restrictions. The privilege would apply only to men who had married Americans before July 1, 1932; all other foreign husbands with American wives remained preference immigrants.[67]

The CWO, not a group of seasoned female reformers, had orchestrated the passage of this amending law, and the incident testified to the sense of entitlement and power citizenship could convey to the immigrant woman. Yet, as the CWO members and many other women in transnational marriages knew, the biases embedded in the country's nationality and immigration policies could still expose married women to some of the law's harshest effects. American-born Rebecca Shelley, who became an alien when she married a German only weeks before the passage of the Cable Act, faced this stark reality on her long road back to citizenship. Courts' denials of repatriation to marital expatriates after 1922 were usually linked to circumstances of race or domicile, but Shelley's ineligibility for naturalization fell into the doctrinal category.

Shelley was born into a family that counted among its ancestors one Abraham Shelley, a Mennonite who had helped found a colony for religious refugees in William Penn's Pennsylvania. In 1915 Shelley resigned her position as a high school teacher to participate in the Women's International Congress held at The Hague. Inspired by her encounters with Jane Addams and other events at The Hague, Shelley embraced fully the pacifist ideals that would shape her future. Shelley went on to achieve some distinction as a tireless promoter of U.S. neutrality during World War I and as one of the major forces behind the much-publicized Ford Peace Expedition, but a nervous breakdown occurring shortly after the resumption of peace forced Shelley to assume a quieter lifestyle on a farm in Michigan, where she hoped to "build life anew upon the wreckage left by the World War."[68]

About a month and a half before the Cable Act went into effect, Shelley married Felix Rathmer, a German who had come to the United


States before the war in order to escape further service in his country's navy. The couple had planned to marry later in the year, but their desire to take a wedding trip to Yellowstone National Park prompted them to marry in the summer. The decision proved costly, for if Rathmer and Shelley had not changed the date of their wedding, she would have been spared a thirteen-year ordeal to regain her citizenship.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Shelley did not begin to pursue her repatriation earnestly until 1931. She had followed the appeal for citizenship of the well-known pacifist, feminist, and personal acquaintance Rosika Schwimmer.[69] At the conclusion of this highly publicized case, the U.S. Supreme Court had declared Schwimmer ineligible for naturalization because she had refused to agree to bear arms in defense of the country and Constitution. It was not routine procedure for naturalization courts to ask female petitioners whether they were "willing if necessary to take up arms in defense of this country," but the Women's Auxiliary of the American Legion had successfully requested that the question be put before Schwimmer.[70]

Although the facts of her case were not identical, Shelley knew the political mainspring of Schwimmer's defeat could also work against her repatriation. Nevertheless, Shelley ventured before a naturalization court two years later, personal appeal in hand, to challenge the laws that had stripped her of her legal identity as an American. "Before marriage I was a conscientious objector to war and exercised my right of free speech on the subject without molestation by the government," she told the court. "To bind me now, under the Cable Act to participate in war against my conscience, would be to deny me rights maintained and exercised before marriage, rights I would have exercised had I married after Sept. 22, 1922 and rights which the Cable Act guarantees."[71]

Shelley's defiant words highlighted some critical weaknesses in the Cable Act's repatriation policy. As she noted, native-born women did not enjoy "complete repatriation" under Cable Act rules but rather were invited back into the fold of citizenship as naturalized Americans. For Shelley, as for many other women, the distinction between naturalized


and birth citizen was crucial. Shelley had satisfied the single requirement for native-born citizenship long ago, but, according to the federal government, an uncompromising pacifist could not meet the standards for naturalized citizenship.

As a resident woman shorn of her citizenship, Shelley might have fashioned her case into a strong post-Cable challenge to Mackenzie v. Hare . Despite the repeal of the rule that had denationalized Ethel Mackenzie, the Supreme Court decision upholding her expatriation remained untouched. The government's partial retreat from marital expatriation had not placed the constitutional legitimacy of legislative expatriation in question. By arguing that Congress had illegitimately robbed her of her citizenship without her consent, Shelley posed such a challenge, but her accompanying request for an exemption from the promise to bear arms required of naturalization applicants allowed the courts to avoid a confrontation of those grounds.

Before appearing in court, Shelley had sought assurance from the naturalization judge that she could claim such an exemption without prejudice. Initially, the judge, Blaine Hatch, concluded that since women were not required to serve in the military, he could administer the oath of allegiance to a female pacifist without violating her principles or the government's requirements for naturalization. However, when Shelley appeared in court to take that oath, the judge informed her that after consulting with a naturalization examiner, he could not proceed with her naturalization unless she answered the question "Will you take up arms?" affirmatively. Hatch respected her moral scruples, but nevertheless felt bound to withhold the certificate of citizenship when she refused to give the required response. "The gun," wrote a crestfallen Shelley after the hearing, was "the measuring-stick of my love of country."[72] Two years later Shelley submitted a new application for repatriation in Hatch's court. It was dismissed. She filed a third time in June of 1933 and received a court hearing early in 1936.

Meanwhile, Shelley's case had drawn support from different quarters. The proponents of equal nationality rights believed that Shelley's dilemma highlighted the unreasonableness of requiring marital expatriates to recoup their citizenship through naturalization. American pacifists hoped the case would undermine the integrity of Schwimmer and


other judicial decisions that infringed on pacifists' freedom of conscience.[73] Although it appears that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was interested in her case, a gradual breakdown in relations between Shelley and the ACLU commenced rather early in her quest for citizenship; but interest in preserving unfettered individual expressions of conscience prompted the formation of the Rebecca Shelley Repatriation Committee of One Hundred in 1932, a group boasting a membership roster that included the names of Jane Addams, Franz Boas, Alice Stone Blackwell and Catharine Waugh McCulloch of the League of Women Voters, Sophonisba Breckinridge, John Dewey, Sinclair Lewis, H. L. Mencken, Reinhold Niebuhr, Doris Stevens and Inez Haynes Irwin of the NWP, W E. B. DuBois, Horace Kallen, William Allen White, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher.[74] Emily Greene Balch became chair of the Shelley Repatriation Committee in 1937.

But the Committee could not duplicate the success of the CWO. The CWO, arguing for family unity, had represented itself as a voice for traditional American values. In contrast, Shelley's political orientation was unpopular in an era when many Americans still viewed pacifists through distorted and red-tinted lenses. Although Shelley's appeals emphasized the discrimination she faced as a woman, she preferred to represent her case foremost as one of consciences.[75] Her contention that she had not pledged to obey her husband at her wedding ceremony and thus had not consented to expatriation was unlikely to receive attentive consideration from the court anyway; the same was true of her argument that the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment had nullified Section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907. Shelley also declined to emphasize the fact that as a woman she was exempt from any military


obligation to participate in a war. No person, Shelley argued, should have to sacrifice conscience for citizenship.[76]

Shelley continued to argue that the Nineteenth Amendment had made her "a fully emancipated person" and thus granted her all the protections and privileges of a native-born male. If the courts continued to reject or ignore this argument (which they did), Shelley had a second defense: birthright citizenship ensured her against all obstacles to repatriation, except those also applicable to native-born men. In sum, Shelley claimed that she should not be treated as an alien for whom U.S. citizenship was an earned privilege but rather as a native for whom citizenship was a matter of natural right. The naturalization court, she averred, had erred when it required her to provide any evidence beyond her birth in the United States.[77]

Shelley was a conscientious objector and a native-born citizen when she married in 1922, and she believed that the Nineteenth Amendment and the Cable Act entitled her to recover in full and without interference her premarital status as citizen and pacifist.[78] The federal government could not exact more from her in exchange for repatriation than it required from her when she was a citizen. "My American citizenship is my birthright," she declared, "and I will embrace it as soon as legal bars are removed. But I do not surrender a hair's breadth of the freedom that was mine on the day of my marriage. . . . I exercised liberty even during the World War, and must not renounce it under the pressure of the reactionary forces it spawned."[79]

Shelley also challenged the court's disregard of Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization D. W. MacCormack's recommendation to grant her petition.[80] MacCormack had concluded that Shelley's


former status as an American-born citizen, her inopportune decision to marry just weeks before the passage of the Cable Act, and the absence of a military-service requirement for females were all factors favoring her repatriation. The judge's disregard of this recommendation, she charged, "amounted to usurpation by the Court of both the executive and the legislative function of government."[81]

In the wake of Shelley's defeat in the courts the Detroit Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends sent a letter to Secretary Frances Perkins requesting clarification of the Labor Department's views in this case. The Department solicitor responded assuringly that his Department had been following the case "with interest" and supported eliminating the requirement to promise to bear arms.[82] Encouraged by this information and Commissioner MacCormack's endorsement of her credentials for citizenship, Shelley appealed the decision. She reiterated her arguments about the liberating force of the Nineteenth Amendment and the Cable Act's intent to return the marital expatriate to her premarital citizenship status, and she challenged the constitutional validity of a naturalization requirement that compelled individuals to violate their religious beliefs in order to obtain citizenship.

The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, however, refused to overturn the lower court's decision, and a year later Shelley's suit was in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. When she lost that case in April of 1940, she appealed the decision and sustained yet another defeat.[83] This time, the court relied on its interpretation of a recent amendment to a 1936 statute that declared that a marital expatriate who had remained in the United States after her pre-Cable marriage was, upon repatriation, "a citizen of the United States to the same extent as though her marriage to said alien had taken place on or after September 22, 1922."[84] Shelley had lobbied for the new law and hoped


it would help her achieve repatriation, but the modified statute still required women to take an oath of allegiance in order to seal their claim to the rights of citizenship.[85] The court denying Shelley's latest appeal cited the language of the 1940 statute to support its decision.[86]

Over the course of the five years preceding this decision, Shelley had gradually seen her control over her life slipping away on other fronts. There is evidence that her husband did not share her devotion to her crusade, which placed considerable stress on an already troubled marriage. She had sold her business to get money for her husband's, but Rathmer's electrical shop never flourished, and Shelley was often the sole but struggling contributor to the household's income. Her repeated efforts to get her writings published met with limited success.[87] Shelley probably persisted with her legal battle because of rather than despite these trials. Although she met with successive defeats, her crusade provided her life with an engrossing purpose. In the midst of personal tribulation, Shelley drew comfort from the conviction that she was waging a moral campaign of transcendent significance.

Shelley's unyielding commitment to freedom of conscience, however, often inhibited her ability to take advantage of proffered assistance. In 1931, she had courted NWP support, assuring the organization that she wanted her case to be "by, of, and for women solely." Shortly after offering to surrender her case to the NWP's direction, however, she confided to an acquaintance that she suspected the NWP leaders were "ultra militant."[88] Shelley could not have been pleased by Burnita Shelton Matthews's comments about her litigation. The NWP's leaders had limited faith in the federal courts as instruments of feminist reform. Shelley's best bet, Matthews advised, was to support an amendment to the Cable Act rather than pursue a judicial remedy.[89]

Shelley's exchanges with ACLU lawyers over legal strategies also


ended unsatisfactorily. She tried to convince Walter Nelson that she could easily distinguish her case from Mackenzie v. Hare (which looked "as antiquated as a yoke of oxen beside Ford's latest model") because that decision predated the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Nelson tersely dismissed this argument, which Shelley cherished as one of her more brilliant, by responding that the Amendment had, after all, really only granted suffrage privileges.[90] And Roger Baldwin's prediction that the courts would refuse to heed the distinction she had made between the native-born marital expatriate seeking repatriation and the foreign-born woman seeking naturalization did not lease Shelley either. She subsequently declared her frustration and annoyance with the New York office of the ACLU, citing its "entirely negative attitude" toward her case.[91]

By the next year, Shelley's faith in others' ability to share her vision had also begun to falter. She had initially believed her cause could unite the defenders of pacifism, conscience, and feminism into a formidable reform alliance, but that dream was never realized. Rather, Shelley found the responses to her impassioned invitations to join her crusade far from inspirational. Both Baldwin and Dorothy Kenyon, a member of the NLWV and the ACLU, both advised her to abandon her conscience arguments and to focus on the Cable Act's naturalization requirement for native-born expatriates.[92] Shelley, however, refused to sideline her claim to freedom of thought. The decision was admirable but costly. The NWP remained convinced of the futility of a litigious challenge to the Cable Act. Thus, when commenting on the NWP's bill to assist women such as Lillian Larch, Shelley gently reminded the Party not to slight the worthiness of her cause even if disapproving of her methods. "If you give relief to the beggars and Mary Magdalenes," she wrote, "don't forget the heretics."[93]


NLWV assistance was also elusive. Its president, Belle Sherwin, received an invitation to join the Shelley Repatriation Committee but declined, explaining that she had discovered that the public assumed that any cause she personally endorsed then carried the League's imprimatur. In this case the national organization had "never discussed for its program the principles involved in Miss Shelley's case, nor has any state League so far as I am aware."[94] Sherwin was apologetic but firmly refused to get involved in Shelley's crusade. Her response seems somewhat disingenuous however. Shelley was challenging the Cable Act's repatriation plan in the court, while the NLWV was pursuing the same by lobbying Congress; but Sherwin knew that championing conscientious objectors did not fit comfortably into the League's current reform agenda nor could it draw solid support from the organization's members. Moreover, League leaders were wary of such open association with the peace movement after their organization had suffered through some vicious red-baiting in the 1920s because of members' pacifist activities.

The Shelley Repatriation Committee was also unable to secure the assistance of Carrie Chapman Catt, who had orchestrated the League's disassociation from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom during those years.[95] Catt, no stranger to the peace movement, brusquely told the head of the Shelley Repatriation Committee that she would not become a member "since I have never seen Miss Shelley and know nothing about her except what you tell me."[96]

Shelley slowly realized that her crusade would not be the magnet that would draw together pacifists and feminists. The leaders of these groups, she surmised, preferred to pursue independent agendas. As a disheartened Shelley reported to Jane Addams, her case appeared to fall "between two stools." "The left wing feminists say, it furnishes another argument for an equal rights amendment. While such a good pacifist as Dr. [Charles Clayton] Morrison would use the case as proof positive that his alien pacifist bill must be accepted."[97] Too few persons inter-


ested in her case shared Shelley's desire to close the distance between those two perspectives.

In 1944, Shelley's crusade for citizenship and conscience concluded successfully, but not because the repatriation laws had been altered in her favor. In fact in 1940, Congress had codified the country's nationality laws, and the resulting Nationality Act of 1940 unraveled some of the work of the earlier 1940 statute by requiring women like Shelley to do more than take an oath of allegiance to recoup their American citizenship. While those women who were no longer the spouses of noncitizens took an oath of allegiance to the United States to regain their citizenship, women still married to foreigners had to submit a petition for citizenship and a certificate stating that they had appeared before a naturalization examiner. They were also not exempt from taking the standard oath of loyalty.

According to the new nationality law, upon successful completion of the process, marital expatriates recovered "the same citizenship status as that which existed immediately prior to its loss."[98] Although this provision suggested that native-born women would now be recognized as birth citizens upon repatriation, it made the required "naturalization" of these women an even more illogical practice than it had been. But the law, despite its flaws, did not complicate Shelley's case further. In 1944 she was finally permitted to take the oath of allegiance with the understanding that her pledge to defend the country did not include a promise to bear arms.[99] What the government had refused to grant this pacifist in peacetime, it had bestowed during war.

Shelley recovered her American citizenship ten years after the U.S. government entered into an international agreement to end discrimination based on sex in the country's nationality law and practices. One could argue that the federal government never fully honored that commitment because it never turned the clock back to restore American citizenship to the thousands of women expatriated by marriage after the passage of the Expatriation Act of 1907. If Congress had consented to such a decisive repudiation of past policy, Shelley would have been spared her protracted and costly legal battle. But at a time when dual


citizens were viewed as hazardous to the health of the nation, the government continued to treat these women as persons of ambiguous loyalties. For Shelley, it was not only the marriage to a German that marked her as a person of divided allegiances but also her conscience. Shelley's devotion to the promotion of peace never abated, and she spent her final years troubled by the destruction of the Vietnam War. She wore mourning black for the duration of the conflict and sold the family farm to finance a trip that enabled her to take her pleas for peace in Southeast Asia to the rest of the world.

Shelley's long journey back to citizenship had often been a lonesome trek, but it was a significant one in the history of women's nationality rights. Her repatriation was, as she had devoutly believed, an affirmation of the rights of conscientious objectors. Shelley's defense had revolved on important Constitutional axes. She had challenged the legitimacy of a policy that permitted Congress to expatriate native-born citizens without their express consent. It was a bid for due process and consensual citizenship posed decades earlier by the pre-Cable case of Mackenzie v. Hare, then the principal Supreme Court decision on legislative expatriation.[100] Shelley was ultimately successful in her bid for repatriation, but her case did not dislodge Mackenzie from its throne. The standard of consent in expatriation cases remained troublingly ambiguous.

The dilemmas of Lillian Larch, Rebecca Shelley, and the CWO each highlighted a different aspect of dependent citizenship's cruel legacy. The suffrage movement had trained its veterans to define citizenship predominantly in terms of political rights and patriotic obligations, but the stories of the women related here served to remind female reformers of the equally vital civil and social rights of citizenship. Undoubtedly,


these cases also reaffirmed nationality-rights reformers' confidence in the expediency of pursuing legislative rather than judicial reform. Even Shelley, who had to appeal to the courts for her citizenship, finally achieved repatriation through the intervention of Labor Department officials, not federal judges. Furthermore, Shelley's struggle served as another disheartening reminder that litigation could be lengthy, costly, and fruitless and that the other party in such cases, the federal government, was usually prepared to pursue an appeal.

The CWO did accomplish its objective without a court battle, but the resulting Immigration Act of July 11, 1932, did not alleviate the disparities of privilege between American women and men with noncitizen spouses. Strictly retrospective in its effect, the law simply shifted the burden of discrimination onto those couples who married after the statute's passage. This chronic failing of piecemeal legislation finally prompted the introduction of a more dramatic solution to sex discrimination in the country's nationality laws—an international treaty that would destroy all remaining distinctions between women's and men's nationality rights.

In the 1930s, full citizenship for American women remained a vision, not a reality, but the issue of married women's nationality rights at home or abroad was no longer a neglected one. In the Pan American Union and the League of Nations, it would become a subject of recurrent discussion. The heightened attention to married women's nationality rights abroad gave the NWP a new audience for its ideas and set the stage for the unveiling of its proposed blanket treaty. But the Party's ambitions in this direction hastened the deterioration of the accord between the two organizational camps working to achieve women's equal nationality rights in the United States.


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