Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lost her citizenship because she married?

My Grandfather William Bellew and my Grandmother Dorothy were married at St. Marks Church in Adams, Massachusetts on Saturday April 19, 1941. Because my Grandfather was not yet a citizen of the US, many members of my Grandmother's family told her that she was no longer a citizen. Even though she was born in the U.S., because she had married an un-naturalized alien her citizenship was no longer valid. I simply thought this could not be true and didn't give it much thought when she brought it up - until recently.

I was revisting the book They Became Americans Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins by Loretto Dennis Szucs and actually found reference to where this thought would have come from.

Because our early laws were based on the English common law, there was some confusion about a woman's nationality. The laws weren't clear if the nationality was based on the woman's father's or that of her husband's when she married. This is absolutely insane! So if you were born in America and married an Englishman then suddenly you were English?

Additionally, if a woman applied for naturalization prior to marriage that was okay, but if both you and your husband were un-naturalized, you could not apply for yourself until he did so. If an non-citizen woman married a man who was a citizen, she automatically obtained citizenship.

In 1860 a law was passed that stated any American born woman or other U.S. citizen woman would lose her citizenship if she married and left the country to live with a foreign born husband. If you decided to return you'd have to go through the "process" of getting naturalized.

In March of 1907 another act was passed that stated any woman who had U.S. citizenship and married an un-naturalized man would lose her citizenship... are you kidding me? Should the husband become naturalized, then her citizenship could be restored.

An act was passed September 22, 1922, called the Married Women's Act, which changed the 1907 act and prohibited expatriation of a U.S. citizen by marriage after this date. But Congress wasn't done yet - what about the women who had married between 1907 and 1922? It only took 14 years - in 1936 Congress passed another act that stated if the marriage had ended prior to 1936, then the woman's citizenship was restored... what about the women who's marriages hadn't ended? Yet another act was passed in 1940 to restore fully all U.S. citizenship to any woman who had lost it due to marriage under the law of 1907. However, these women had to take an oath of allegiance at the naturalization court prior to exercising their rights as U.S. citizens (voting for instance, which was given to women in 1918, could not be done if you were part of this group).

So, this law was NOT in effect when my Grandparents had married, but her family was correct in their belief that she had possibly lost her citizenship. Who would have thought?


  1. How interesting! I've never heard of this before.

  2. This is interesting to me since my grandfather lost his citizenship for fighting in WWI for Canada (Britain). They took it through the courts and he was awarded his citizenship. He did not find out until he applied for a passport in the early 1960's that he was not a citizen all those years...had voted and paid taxes. I thought that marrying a woman who was a US citizen would have "grandfathered (no pun intended) him into citizenship. They were married in 1920...although my grandmother did not lose her citizenship. Interesting!! Thanks for the post.

  3. Unbelievable.
    Hi my friend, i am enjoying catching up a little on your progress here. What lovely treasures you are sharing too
    Hugs June x

  4. My grandmother also lost her U.S.citizenship when marrying my grandfather, a Canadian. They married in 1912 and she had to sign a declaration to the U.S., I believe in the 20's, she worked for the probate court and it was relatively easy for her (I have the copy)She was going to be a delegate for the republican party...until grandpa said....NO.