Women & Citizenship


“Race and marriage mediated women’s nationality status until the 1930’s.  From the constitutional founding through the Civil War, African, Indian and Asian women and men could not be naturalized.  Mexicans in the Southwest could become naturalized after the mid-nineteenth-century U.S. conquest of Mexican territory, and Africans were permitted naturalization under post-civil war legislation.  Except for those Indians(sic) whose tribal treaties with the U.S. government provided naturalization rights, Indians were excluded from naturalization until 1924.  Until 1952, Asian immigrants were deemed “ineligible for citizenship.”

Although early-nineteenth-century judicial decisions considered women’s nationality status to be independently determined by the territorial condition of their birth, by the mid-nineteenth century, women’s nationality was tied to that of their husband.  Following the family law doctrine of coverture, according to which married women assumed the state or domicile citizenship of their husbands, the Naturalization Act of 1855 imposed citizenship on foreign-born white women who married U.S. citizens.  This assigned political consequences to women’s marriage decisions; it also reinforced the idea that by consenting to marriage, women consented to multiple forms of dependency on and subordination to men.

The 1907 naturalization policy added a punitive dimension to women’s derivative citizenship by revoking the nationality status of U.S.-born women who married men from other countries.”

Source: The Reader’s Companion to Women’s History

Batlan, F. “She Was Surprised And Furious”: Expatriation, Suffrage, Immigration, and The Fragility Of Women’s Citizenship, 1907-1940.

Gardner, S. (2014). Psi Sigma Siren. Marriage and Citizenship in the United States, 8(1).

The Cable Act (1922) It served to lend women independence from their husbands, in citizenship.

Citizenship and the Origins of Women's History in the United States book by Teresa Ann Murphy