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Article 2

Bruce H. Seger, Esq., University of Bridgeport and Suffolk County Community College

Married Women’s Citizenship in the United States for a Century and a Half: An Overview

The bias against independent citizenship for married women in America was evident
from the first major Naturalization Act of 1790 to the 1907 Expatriation Act which took
over a decade to repeal. For a century and a half after the Independence of the American
Colonies from Great Britain, laws and policies in the United States continued to be
influenced by British derivative law with some unique American interpretation. The
ideology of John Locke concerning the ideals of subjugation and the tenets of marital
British law regarding coverture and legal rights of married women professed by Sir
William Blackstone laid the groundwork for America’s view of married women’s
citizenship. The subsequent naturalization acts based on these ideologies and the failed
court cases attempting to reverse these laws allowed for the passage of the Expatriation
Act of 1907 which forced married women to forfeit their United States citizenship due to
the ethnicity and/or race of their husbands. Although the Cable Act of 1922 gave the
opportunity of individual citizenship for married women, it provided it inequitably. It
wasn’t until more than a decade after the Cable Act that some of the deficiencies of the
Act were revised. The inequities were recognized by some who prior to and throughout
this period, as a result of their writings and court cases, highlighted the unequal treatment
of married women, but the resistance, inertness and agendas of American leaders
continued. It was not until the middle of the 20 th Century that many of the inequities were
corrected. This paper examines the provisions and ramifications of the major federal acts
and laws affecting citizenship of married women, their possible historical intent, and the
writings, testimonies and court cases of individuals who brought to the fore awareness of
the inequalities of married women’s citizenship.