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May 24, 1934, was a triumphant day for equalitarian feminists in the United States. The President signed their equalization bill, the Senate ratified the equal-nationality treaty, and women could celebrate the successful culmination of their domestic struggle for equal nationality rights. The treaty marked U.S. abandonment of marital expatriation, although not the full erasure of its effects. Women who had lost their citizenship by marriage were not automatically reinstated as Americans, as Rebecca Shelley's tribulations demonstrated in striking detail. Sex discrimination would linger, its residual effects capable of affecting the citizenship of another generation.

The precedential status of Mackenzie v. Hare in the country's courts would also survive the abolition of marital expatriation.[1] The 1934 treaty left the legitimacy of government-initiated expatriation unchallenged. Also unsubdued was the political environment that stirred antagonism toward transnational marriages. Doubts about certain immigrant groups' willingness and capacity to assimilate and attendant


anxieties about the cultural and economic impact of immigration kept most restrictive immigration and naturalization laws firmly in place after 1934. Providing married men and women with a common set of standards for naturalization, expatriation, repatriation, and immigration marked the abandonment of one significant form of discrimination against individuals of foreign nationality or connections, but race, color, and national origin still remained weighty factors in an immigrant's attainment of permanent residency, citizenship, and social acceptance.[2]

The consummate goal of equalitarian feminists—the repudiation of The Hague convention and the global embrace of the equal-nationality treaty—also remained unrealized. American equalitarian feminists had managed to outmaneuver the critics of their blanket treaties in the United States. Yet, their opposition never conceded defeat but instead fought back with some success by urging the Roosevelt administration to break the NWP's hold on the Inter-American Commission of Women. Despite its recent achievements, the influence of the NWP within the federal government appeared to be ebbing, and the loss was particularly evident in its strained relations with the Roosevelt administration. The NWP was conspicuously and involuntarily absent from White House advisory meetings on women's issues. According to the New York Times, "Ever since the Roosevelt administration came in, the National League of Women Voters and the Consumers League have been numerously represented at all White House and other conferences on women' activities, relief, &c., to none of which any representative of the Woman's Party has ever been invited." The standard explanation for this partiality was the presence of Eleanor Roosevelt.[3]

On the international front, equalitarian feminists had not been able to break the stalemate with the League of Nations. The League Assembly continued to hear reports on the nationality rights of women, but five years after The Hague Conference its member nations remained deeply divided over the issue.[4] In the 1930s, most governments preferred


the League of Nations' Hague convention on nationality to the equal-nationality treaty, and the only consolation the NWP could draw from the situation was the absence of unified support for The Hague convention. The U.S.S.R., Chile, China, Cuba, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Uruguay, and the States of the Little Entente favored the principle of equality as expressed in the Montevideo treaty. Other League members supported the limited measure of equality extended by The Hague convention of 1930, while another group rejected the notion of independent citizenship for married women entirely as a threat to the family. The League of Nations Assembly adopted a resolution that acknowledged the landmark status of the Montevideo agreement, but members also reiterated the need to move quickly toward ratification of The Hague convention.[5] The Hague convention finally went into force in 1937, and the League acted no further on the question of married women's nationality rights. After World War II, that responsibility fell to the new United Nations.[6]

The League's Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality annually renewed its request to amend or delete those articles in The Hague convention that discriminated against women, and by 1935 its plea for women's nationality rights included an endorsement of the Montevideo equal rights treaty. Woman's rights organizations never reached consensus on the appropriateness of the treaty as a remedy for dependent citizenship, but the document sustained the support of several international women's groups. In addition to the League's Consultative Committee, the international women's organizations endorsing the equal rights treaty included the Inter-American Commission of Women (1933), International Soroptimists Clubs (1934), World Committee of Women Against War and Fascism (1934), Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1934), International Alliance of


Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship (1935), Equal Rights International (1934), International Council of Women (1935), All-Asian Conference of Women (1935), International Federation of University Women (1935), and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (1935).[7]

By the mid-1930s equalitarian feminists had reached the pinnacle of their power in the fight for equal nationality rights, but their domination of the Inter-American Commission of Women would soon face serious challenge. The Roosevelt administration's antagonism toward the Inter-American Commission subsided in 1938, but conciliation came at the NWP's expense. It was well known that equalitarian feminists, the supporters of the equal rights amendment, were not the favorites of the White House; and events at the 1938 Conference of American States in Lima, Peru, proved how far from favor the NWP had traveled. At this conference the U.S. delegation introduced one resolution proposing the reorganization of the Inter-American Commission and another endorsing protective legislation for women. The delegates averred that the U.S. government simply wanted to establish the Commission on an "official basis," which could be accomplished by having each government appoint its representative. The move was a clumsy but ultimately effective attempt to remove Doris Stevens from the Commission.[8] The delegation's other proposal supporting protective legislation was also a challenge to the present Commission's influence.

The first resolution received little support from other delegations, which objected to the insinuation that the Commission had not been operating as an official body of the Union. The Roosevelt administration nevertheless moved forward with its plan and appointed Mary Winslow of the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau as U.S. representative to the Commission. According to the U.S. State Depart-


ment, the Pan American Union rather than its government was responsible for Stevens's appointment as chair of the Commission, so she had never served as the official U.S. representatives.[9]

The new appointee presented a striking contrast to Stevens. Winslow was a "protectionist" and thus an opponent of the equal rights amendment, and she had limited acquaintance with Latin American affairs. Eleanor Roosevelt had introduced Winslow as the Inter-American Commission of Women representative at one of her press conferences, and the gesture immediately fueled speculation about the First Lady's complicity in Stevens's removal. Roosevelt denied any involvement in the matter. Responding to the accusations of an NWP member printed in the New York Times, the First Lady avowed that she did not propose Winslow's appointment. "I happen to be connected with a group which does not believe as the National Woman's Party does. I think they have a good argument on an ideal basis and I have no quarrel with their advocating it. But we have to live in the world as it is." Roosevelt then added that she believed Latin American women were less prepared than women in the United States for an equal rights treaty.[10]

Secretary of Labor Perkins supported Winslow's appointment, as did Mary (Molly) Dewson. Indeed, both Perkins and Dewson had written to the State Department urging action against the Inter-American Commission in the form of a pro-protectionist statement and the removal of Stevens. After Stevens was unseated, an appreciative Dewson


assured Secretary of State Hull that "the women are immensely grateful for your appointment of Mary Winslow. The National Woman's Party may stew a little but thank Heavens they have lost, thanks to you, their strategic position." The NWP did cry foul and recruited a Congressional spokesperson to present their complaints. Senator Edward R. Burke of Nebraska agreed to introduce a resolution denouncing the action taken against Stevens.[11] Secretary Cordell Hull once again defended his Department's decision, this time in a lengthy letter to Key Pittman, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The U.S. government, Hull argued, had never informed the Pan American Union or its Governing Board that Stevens was its designate. Furthermore, stressed Hull, the Inter-American Commission of Women was the creation of the Pan American Union but otherwise had "no direct relationship to the United States."[12] Winslow remained the U.S. representative to the Inter-American Commission of Women.

As the NWP's voice faded on the international scene, so did interest in an equal rights treaty. Yet, what the NWP had already achieved in the area of women's nationality rights represented its most significant victory in the postsuffrage years. One newspaper reporter observing the NWP in the 1930s declared that "it is no breach of confidence or courtesy to say that [the Woman's Party] . . . is actually, as well as figuratively, the small but stinging goad, the thorn in the flesh, the burr beneath the political saddle blanket. Its members glory in their position as the opposition force, the minute but mighty leaven that stirs up the otherwise inert mass."[13] The Party's participation in the struggle for equal nationality rights was a choice demonstration of its leaders' political talents. The NWP's entrance into the nationality-rights crusade in 1923 had given a noticeable boost to the movement's energy, and complacency never threatened to infect the cause after 1922. The NWP helped prod a sluggish federal government into episodic action, chal-


lenged gradualists' control over the pace of progress, and managed to transcend parochial concerns to combat derivative citizenship ably on an international scale. The NWP savored its successive achievements at home and abroad in the struggle for nationality rights and celebrated them as proof that the ultimate objective of legal equality for women was not only just but viable.

Organized women in the United States spent almost thirty years lobbying for the revision or repeal of nationality and immigration laws fashioned by the demands of a patriarchal society as well as its nativist element. Although the NWP and the WJCC subcommittee on nationality disagreed over the preferred pace of reform, their domestic political tactics had remained similar. As Michael McGerr has noted, even the NWP was less likely to "take to the streets" after 1920.[14] Although the nationality-rights coalition did work to educate the public on the injustices caused by marital expatriation, both the NWP and the WJCC placed almost exclusive faith in the effectiveness of their lobbying efforts. By the 1930s the participants in the independent-citizenship campaign had little reason to question that confidence. An intransigent Congress had once been the major obstacle in their course; now, the Senate, which had been more conservative than the House in its endorsements of nationality rights and immigration privileges for nonresidents, had ratified an equal-nationality, treaty.

With the outstanding exception of Mackenzie v. Hare, supporters of equal nationality rights for women generally did not look to the courts to redress their grievances. Shelley's insistence on seeking a judicial resolution to her dilemma, for example, elicited a relatively lukewarm response from the NWP which preferred to pressure Congress more directly. In the 1920s and 1930s, judicial interpretation of the special applications of nationality and immigration laws to married women issued most often from cases involving the immigrant wives of U.S. citizens. Such cases, which could not serve as exhibitions of previous American women's struggles to recoup their citizenship, did not attract visible support from the majority of women's organizations involved in the independent-citizenship campaign.

Despite the fact that the nationality-rights campaign was unable to dispel the distrust among organized American women fostered by the


conflict over the equal rights amendment, no other pre-World War II reform effort except woman suffrage rivaled it as a demonstration of the force of women's unified political strength brought to bear on the federal government. Conceived in the final years of the woman-suffrage movement, the nationality-reform movement bore a strong resemblance to the national struggle for the vote in membership and mindset. Woman suffragists had often claimed that their right to vote derived from their status as Americans, a supposition that acquired vivid nationalistic and sometimes nativistic undertones in the latter decades of the reform campaign. The sense of exceptionalism that persisted in the collective consciousness of Americans at times infused American women's appeals for the vote as well as for independent citizenship.

Much of the rhetoric promoting women's acquisition of these political rights celebrated American citizenship as a birthright of unparalleled value and distinction. Forced to demand the security of their American citizenship and its rights during years of abundant anti-immigrant sentiment, female reformers had found it highly profitable to represent the civic sensibilities of the citizen woman as singularly "American." Although woman suffragists never wholly abandoned their emphasis on equal rights based on personhood, they comprehended the benefits of fashioning an image of the American-born woman that would position her advantageously within a political culture that promoted a sense of solidarity and superiority among American-born men and women.

The fact that thousands of native-born married women began to lose their legal identities as Americans involuntarily after 1907 only magnified the need to secure public recognition of the American woman's value as a citizen. But some equalitarian feminists found such a nationalistic rendering less appealing than many of their allies in the movement for independent citizenship. For the leaders of the NWP, it could be a confining construction, one particularly inappropriate in the context of an international campaign for women's citizenship rights. The expansion of the general debate over women's nationality rights to international proportions provided the opportunity for some American feminists to break out of the narrowly nationalistic mind-set that had dominated the domestic campaign since its beginnings. The ensuing pursuit of an equal-nationality treaty represented equalitarian feminists' attempt to construct a conceptual base for independent citizenship that better served their vision of global equality for women, but


the resulting skirmishes over the treaty at home and abroad left the nationality-rights movement in the United States shaken and divided.

In the 1920S the cause of equal nationality rights had accommodated both republican and liberal notions of citizenship, with their respective emphases on civic responsibility and individual rights; but the introduction of the equal-nationality treaty in 1930 threatened to destroy that visional balance, which was so critical to the reform movement's internal stability. Not only did the treaty provoke a resurgence of suspicion about the NWP's larger political objectives, it breached the rules of good citizenship as the NLWV and its closest allies understood them. Indeed, the promotions of the equal-nationality treaty, equal rights treaty, and equal rights amendment were all condemned as violations of an unwritten code of responsible citizenship.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Americans "love change but they dread revolutions."[15] Tocqueville might have felt it necessary to qualify his observation if he had met some of the leaders of the NWP, but his assertion fairly described the political predilections of those reformers in the nationality-rights crusade who had great faith in the virtues of gradual reform and in the vices of revolutionary change. In the midst of the debate over the nationality treaty, Dorothy Straus of the NLWV felt compelled to warn that "sudden and violent advances have invariably been followed by repression." The reform-minded Eleanor Roosevelt had likewise counseled patience. "We must take the world as it is," she had admonished. Maud Wood Park's oft-quoted comment noting the NLWV's willingness "to go ahead slowly in order to go ahead steadily" described a strategy more than a philosophy of reform; but her accompanying statement, that the League had "not sought to lead a few women a long way quickly, but rather to lead many women a little way at a time," did convey something more profound, for not only women but the entire polity were the real objects of the League's carefully calibrated educational efforts.[16]

These and other statements by the antitreaty reformers in the nationality-rights campaign on the virtues of gradualism implied more


than just a disagreement over the instruments of women's advancement. For reform women possessing a strong communitarian outlook, the question at the heart of the treaty conflict was not really the treaty itself, which proposed to complete the work to which nationality-rights reformers were committed and which they had nearly achieved. Rather, it was the nontextual significances of the treaty that explained the intense opposition to it, at least within women's groups dedicated to independent citizenship. "We are not feminists primarily, we are citizens," Dorothy Straus had declared emphatically in an attempt to explain the NLWV's rejection of the treaty proposal.[17] It was a simple but profoundly revealing statement, one that distilled to its essential terms the larger conflict between the reformers' two camps.

Before the achievement of the vote and other political rights, a woman's value as citizen was traditionally defined almost exclusively not through a direct and public relation to the polity but indirectly through her relationship to family. The civic duties of cultivating moral sensibilities in the youngest generation of citizens and of "keeping the home fires burning" while men served their country as citizen-soldiers did give women a kind of adjunctive value as citizens. But as the Naturalization Act of 1855 and Expatriation Act of 1907 demonstrated so dramatically, molding the woman citizen from the cultural icons of nurturing mother and sacrificing wife still left her politically vulnerable. Nationality-rights reformers were thus keenly aware of the hazards of domesticating citizenship; but as they worked toward fashioning a model of good citizenship for the postsuffrage, post-Cable era, not all repudiated the belief that the citizen-mother played a distinctive role in the civic life of her community.[18]

Today, feminists are still contemplating how much women's en-


trance into the political arena has affected the practices of citizenship. The debate over the theoretical structuring of, and the relationship between, "public" and "private" life has grown increasingly complex as has the influence of feminism on the elements of citizenship. Interwar feminists' engagement with these matters was limited. The leaders of the nationality-rights crusade too often slighted issues of race and class in their discussions of the pursuit of "full citizenship for women" and were less than articulate about how feminist values might render a new paradigm of citizenship. Yet, until the 1980s, these observations could generally describe contemporary feminist writings. Those scholars now engaged in the formulation of a theory of feminist citizenship can perhaps best appreciate the exploratory offerings of this former generation of feminists and the pertinence of their struggles.[19]

The women of the nationality-rights crusade found themselves struggling to identify what Sara Evans has called upon feminist scholars to explore—a "feminist conception of public life."[20] For interwar feminists, the task was not a simple one because, for many, it meant a searching inquiry into the undisputed but thinly defined relationship between feminism and citizenship. For equalitarian feminists, there was no apparent tension between these concepts. American feminists were by definition good citizens because they promoted the ideals of equal rights and individualism associated with a liberal society. For those favoring a more communitarian than equalitarian vision, however, this resolution of the tension was problematical. The introduction of the equal-nationality treaty highlighted these differences among nationality-rights reformers.[21]

As long as all participants agreed that the purpose of the campaign for equal nationality rights was strictly the removal of sex discrimina-


tion from the country's nationality laws, the sameness-versus-difference debate that so dominated interwar discussions of the wisdom or folly of an equal rights amendment was avoidable. Its achievement chiefly in the hands of native-born veterans of the suffrage campaign, independent citizenship was defined as a political entitlement and thus shared woman suffrage's emphasis on women's equal access to and participation in a political community. This was, however, a narrow representation of what citizenship was worth to women, as the petitions of the Citizen Wives Organization and Shelley's determined pleas for freedom of thought had demonstrated.

The intensity of the concern over an equal right amendment's impact on protective labor legislation suggested and women's participation in the administration of New Deal social welfare programs reinforced female reformers' movement away from a conceptualization of citizenship shaped by the long suffrage movement.[22] Suffrage and nationality-rights proponents had cultivated an understanding of and focus on what T. H. Marshall termed the rights of political citizenship, but by the end of the nationality-rights crusade it was apparent that a new dimension of citizenship was poised to gain greater prominence.[23]

The two world wars bracketed transformative years in Americans'


understanding of the elements of citizenship: the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment left the invisible color line drawn around political rights untouched but nevertheless continued to carry both real and symbolic significance for many American women; the Supreme Court inaugurated the gradual process of nationalizing the liberty guarantees of the Bill of Rights; Congress passed a new citizenship law for American Indians; the federal government began its construction of a welfare system that would gradually alter the public's understanding of the government's obligations to its citizens; and American women secured the restoration of their independent claims to citizenship. Female activists had long been involved in the business of improving the law's protection of women as wives, mothers, and wage earners. And as federal and state programs to assist female-headed families with children increased in the interwar years, so did women activists' discussion of the importance of guaranteeing the social elements of citizenship before declaring that women had indeed achieved "full citizenship." Asserting women's claim on the new social rights of citizenship, however, first required securing women's grasp on that citizenship; the nationality-rights movement provided that security. The shift in female reformers' emphasis from political to social citizenship was significant because it brought the sameness-difference question directly to bear on their theoretical organization of citizenship. Whether feminists should advocate a "neutral" form of citizenship or assert women's unique contributions and needs as citizens was a question female activists had to grapple with then—and now.

Citizenship and feminism have both sustained multiple understandings. It is not surprising, then, that interwar feminists could not agree on one model of the feminist citizen. In the nationality-rights movement's final years, this disagreement and other conflicts threatened to obscure its goals, but its participants' shared commitments to political activism and belief in the value of membership in a national community continued to furnish a strong incentive to persevere in the work of women's citizenship rights. The nationality-rights crusade yielded evidence of a struggle of identity among organized women as they deliberated with new intentness on what it meant to be both a feminist and a citizen. The fact that activist women then proceeded to disagree on the answer to this fundamental question should be interpreted as a sign not of weakness but of strength—of female reformers' collective intellectual vitality. Indeed, the absence of such a debate would have been the true incriminating evidence, the proof of organized women's in-


ability or reluctance to explore the tangled roots of their commitment to woman's rights. To judge these voices otherwise would not only slight the dialogic contributions of the first generation of postsuffrage feminists but the work of others who have faithfully cultivated and broadened this conversation. It remains, decades later, a discussion we are wise to sustain and enrich with the insights of our generations.


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