Brendan Shanahan

"Unalienable" Rights? Race, Gender and the Loss of American Citizenship Among US-Born Women, 1907-1931

Between 1907 and 1931 thousands of American-born women lost their citizenship without ever leaving the United States. Due to the little-known Expatriation Act of 1907 all American-born women who married noncitizens lost their citizenship until its repeal in 1922. However, due to prevailing racist attitudes, native-born women who married Asian-born men continued to lose their citizenship until 1931. Though women’s derivative citizenship (the assuming of one’s husband’s citizenship) has been largely overlooked in American history, scholars of gender and immigration have recently explored its political and legal history.

Entering into this discussion, my project explores three major questions. First, did American-born women know that they were losing their citizenship upon marriage to foreigners? To answer this question I will examine if automatic expatriation was discussed in major English-language and immigrant/ethnic newspapers of the period. Second, if this was the case, did the law affect marriage patterns among different communities? Third, if not, when and how did American-born women learn about their loss of citizenship and why did so many reapply for citizenship between 1936 and 1968? Throughout this project I will consider how this gendered, racialized policy influenced American-born women differently based on their ethnicity/race, class, and perceived sexual mores.