Our All-American Aliens

From 1907 to 1931, an American woman would lose her citizenship if she married a non-American man, taking the husband’s nationality instead — even if she’d never visited the country in question or spoke the language.

This 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained the situation: 

Few people realize that there is in this country a group of individuals born here of native stock, many of whom have never left the shores of the U.S.A., even for a Cook’s tour, and who are, nevertheless, aliens. They are classified as such in the census returns. They cannot vote. They cannot take the civil service examinations. They cannot fill municipal, state, or federal positions. If they left this country it might be difficult for them to return. Some of them may not have moved from the village of their birth. They are indeed as American as the president himself, and yet overnight they have become German, Austrian, English, Russian, Italian, French, or Swedish.

No similar rules applied vice versa to American men who married non-citizen women.

Although the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality in 1915’s MacKenzie v. Hare, after women gained the right to vote nationwide in 1920, the loss of citizenship was being felt more acutely. In September 1922, a few months after this February 1922 article, Congress enacted the Cable Act which partially reversed the rules, though still leaving several exemptions in place allowing some married women to lose their U.S. citizenship upon marrying a foreigner. The law would be fully overturned in 1931.

 

Our All-American Aliens (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 26, 1922

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Written by Jesse Rifkin

February 27th, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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