Monday, November 5, 2012

Female Ancestor Citizenship Confusion?

Loss of Citizenship
(Part II of Citizenship and the Law. Click here for Part I)

If you are confused by the documents that state your American born female ancestor was not a US citizen, you are not alone. Tracing one family, the woman was a citizen as a child, had her passport application denied because she wasn't a citizen, then later applied for citizenship. 

Shaking my head to the confusion, once again I researched the laws of the time for answers to discover the moving citizenship requirements that were imposed after the Naturalization Act of 1906. Interestingly enough the Naturalization Act was created to standardize the naturalization procedure and citizenship requirements. Yet from 1907 to WWII, citizenship laws impacted American born women, leaving the men unscathed.

What to Look For?
Did your female ancestor marry a foreign national?  The Expatriation Act of 1907 declared that an American woman who married a foreign national or alien lost her US citizenship.  So from 1907 -1922 women born in the USA lost their citizenship when they married foreigners, but could only be repatriated when their husbands became naturalized citizens. 
  1.  Did you female ancestor marry an Asian? The Married Women’s Citizenship Act of 1922, also called the Cable Act, reversed most of the Expatriation Act, except in the cases of an American woman being married to an Asian.  From 1922 - 1936 the Cable Act still stripped American citizenship to those married to Asian aliens. 
  2. The law became more woman friendly by 1940.  At this time women were allowed to repatriate if they lost their citizenship between 1907 – 1922 due to their alien spouse.  However, to restore her US citizenship, the American-born was required to apply for citizenship and take the oath of allegiance.
What About Men who Married Foreign Nationals?
Surely you didn’t expect the same loss of citizenship to be reported for men during this timeframe?  Neither the Expatriation Act of 1907 nor the Cable Act applied to men. However, the flow of immigrants was controlled by the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited European immigration and banned Asian immigration to the United States. (Note the exceptions below).

During WWII the Immigration Act had to be repealed when approximately one million American soldiers married foreign women from 50 different countries. Visit the War Brides in Citizenship and the Law.  

For More Information
Be sure to review the Harvard University library Open Collections Program, Aspiration, Acculturation and Impact – Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930. Here is an excerpt of the timeline provided: 

1906    The Naturalization Act of 1906 standardizes naturalization procedures, makes some knowledge of the English language a requirement for citizenship, and establishes the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in the Commerce Department to oversee national immigration policy.           

1907    The Expatriation Act declares that an American woman who marries a foreign national loses her citizenship.
Under an informal "Gentlemen's Agreement," the United States agrees not to restrict Japanese immigration in exchange for Japan's promise to voluntarily restrict Japanese emigration to the United States by not issuing passports to Japanese laborers. In return, the US promise to crack down on discrimination against Japanese-Americans, most of whom live in California.

 1911   The Dillingham Commission warned that the "new" immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe threatens to subvert American society. The Dillingham Commission's recommendations lay the foundation for the Quota Acts of the 1920

1917    Congress immigration from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines. The Immigration Act of 1917 restricts immigration from Asia by creating an "Asiatic Barred Zone." 

1921    The Emergency Quota Act restricts immigration from a given country to 3% of the number of people from that country living in the US in 1910

1922    The Cable Act partially repeals the Expatriation Act, but declares that an American woman who marries an Asian still lose her citizenship                   

1924    The Oriental Exclusion Act prohibits most immigration from Asia, including foreign-born wives and the children of American citizens of Chinese ancestry.                                         

1934    The Tydings-McDuffe Act grants the Philippines independence from the United States on July 4, 1946, but strips Filipinos of US citizenship and severely restricts Filipino immigration to the United States.   

Kathleen Brandt


  1. So much history and information here to help me understand this issue better. (I believe some of this was in an earlier blog of yours?) This adds an interesting perspective to the heated immigration issues today ... It shows me that there were always strains of xenophobia in this country (of course), and that often women were targeted for (so to speak) "sleeping with the enemy." Really interesting!

    1. Mariann, I believe you are referring to Part I: Citizenship and the Law:

      Thanks you for reading and commenting.

  2. Hi, I really need the full text of the Cable Act, 1922. Where can I find it on the internet?

  3. I have not located full text on the internet. You can obtain the text however from the US printing Office, Monthly Labor Review. You can also contact the Library of Congress in Washington D. C.