Prologue Magazine

Prologue: Selected Articles

"Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married . . ."
Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940, Part 2


While it appears foreign-born women did not complain about any remaining link between a woman's naturalization and her husband's, some Naturalization Bureau officials thought any remaining connection was unfair.(14) Clear dissatisfaction was expressed by U.S.-born women who, in many cases, belatedly discovered they had lost their citizenship by marriage prior to September 1922 and now must petition for naturalization if they wished to regain it. After considering that other Americans who expatriated themselves by swearing allegiance to another nation during World War I needed only to take the oath of allegiance in court to restore their U.S. citizenship, U.S. Commissioner of Naturalization Raymond Crist suggested that Congress might create some similar provision for U.S.-born women:
Some women feel that a certain stigma attaches to the need of "naturalization" in the same manner as any lowly immigrant. Women of perhaps Mayflower ancestry, whose forbears fought through the Revolution, and whose family names bear honored and conspicuous places in our history, who are thoroughly American at heart, and who perhaps have never left these shores, but whose act in choosing alien husbands has caused forfeiture of American citizenship, bemoan the stipulation that such as they must sue for naturalization by the ordinary means.(15)

Not until 1936 did Congress comply with Crist's request, and then only for those women who lost U.S. citizenship by marriage between 1907 and 1922 and whose marriage had terminated through death or divorce. If she met this criteria she could file an application with her local naturalization court and resume her citizenship upon taking the oath of allegiance. The application was typically made on Form N-415, Application to Take Oath of Allegiance to the United States, which should be filed in separate volumes from each court's other naturalization records. Some courts, however, interfiled these documents with other petitions. In 1940 Congress allowed all women who lost citizenship by marriage between 1907 and 1922 to repatriate, or resume their citizenship, regardless of their marital status. Since then, any woman who lost U.S. citizenship in those years by marriage to any alien, even if they remained happily married, could resume her citizenship by applying and taking the oath of allegiance.

Naturalization class for citizenship In this 1921 photograph, only one women is taking the naturalization class for citizenship. It was not until the following year that women would finally get a nationality of their own and more women would seek to be naturalized. (U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service)

The subject of women and naturalization was often as confusing to people in the past as it is to researchers today. Not all courts upheld or strictly enforced naturalization requirements. Other misunderstandings arose when naturalization records did not change as rapidly as did naturalization law. For example, after implementation of the Cable Act in 1922, naturalization certificates continued to call for the name of the new citizen's spouse until at least 1929. This was a remnant of the days when women derived nationality from their husbands, and the name inserted on the certificate after 1922 was usually that of the wife. There were subsequently instances where unnaturalized spouses used such certificates as proof of citizenship, even using them to obtain U.S. passports from the Department of State.(16)

Still other misunderstandings arise today because some are unable to fathom that immigrant women may have gained U.S. citizenship by any means other than naturalization. There is a surprising number of elderly women al