At the time of the founding of the US, female citizens did not share all of the same rights as men, including the right to vote. It wasn’t until August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed and American women were granted the right to vote.
But at that time, a woman’s suitability for citizenship still depended on her husband’s status – he had to be “eligible” whether he wanted to swear allegiance or not. (Archives)
On March 2, 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which decreed, among other things, that US women who married non-citizens were no longer Americans.
Congress mandated that “any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband.” Upon marriage, regardless of where the couple resided, the woman’s legal identity morphed into her husband’s. (Archives)
If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship. But none of these rules applied to American men when they chose a spouse. (NPR)
“(There was a) time that we went through when American women lost their citizenship when they married men born in foreign countries who had not yet become Americans.”
Hawai‘i’s “(Gobindram (GJ) Watumull) was within a month of becoming a citizen when the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision that people coming from India would not be considered by the average man on the street as a white man …”
“… and, therefore, he could not become a citizen; and the attempt was made subsequently to take away the citizenship of those who already had it.”
“The case that went to the Supreme Court was that of Dr. Thind, an Indian whom all of you know, but being a Sikh, he had a full beard and a turban and of course he had very bright fiery eyes.”
“However, although he lost his right to citizenship by the Supreme Court decision, he soon became an American citizen because he joined the U.S. Army, but the rest of the Indians had to suffer from it.”
“And I, who had married (Watumull), an alien not eligible for citizenship, then lost my American citizenship. Of course for several years I did not leave the Islands, much less go to a foreign country, but had I traveled I would have had to obtain a British passport which I was very averse to doing.” (Ellen Watumull)
This inequity in citizenship rights prompted Ohio Congressman John L. Cable to act. He sponsored legislation to give American women “equal nationality and citizenship rights” as men.
Ellen Jensen, an American from Portland, married GJ Watumull, from India, in 1922. He had the Watumull stores and later foundations and investments in Hawai‘i. Ellen lost her American citizenship because she had married a British East Indian subject.
Ellen Watumull was involved with the League of Women Voters in Hawaii to rescind the law, which prevented American-born women from retaining US Citizenship when marrying non-citizens. (SAADA)
Ellen fought the law, and won.
“(T)he Cable Act, as it was then called, was amended, enabling American women to retain their citizenship if they married foreigners who were eligible for citizenship.”
“But it was not until 1931 that the law was further amended, stating that no American woman would lose her citizenship no matter whom she married, whether the man was eligible for citizenship or not.” (Watumull)
“Immediately afterwards, (she) went to the Federal Court in Honolulu and became naturalized (the first woman to do so following the passage of the law).”
“And you will all remember that on the fifth of May, 1971 (Ellen) observed the fortieth anniversary of my becoming a two-hundred-percent American.” (Ellen Watumull)
“As far as we know too, (GJ Watumull) was the first person to become naturalized when the law was passed and signed by the President.”
“I shall never forget when the telephone rang and (GJ Watumull) said, ‘This is Citizen Watumull speaking.’” (Ellen Watumull)
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