Women From Nowhere

Chicago Eagle, Oct 28, 1922

In April 1950, a Russian citizen named Rose Glickstein applied for American citizenship in the United State District Court located in Newark, New Jersey. She was 49 years old, a divorcee; her divorce having been finalized only four months prior. Her now ex-husband had naturalized in 1931, but as per the law at the time, her citizenship had not followed his and she remained a Russian citizen. This, however, had not been the case thirteen years prior when a then 17-year-old Rose Feldman married a Russian citizen named Charles (born Aron) Glickstein. In every way, the naturalization paperwork appears to be that of just another Russian Jewish immigrant. There is one glaring detail, however, that makes this situation unusual — Rose Feldman was born a US citizen in Newark, New Jersey and this document exists as a relic of a little known era in which American women had no right to a nationality of their own.

Rose Glickstein (born Rose Feldman)’s application to take the oath of allegiance. Image via FamilySearch

The paperwork for these reclamations of citizenship — a process that began in 1936 — reveals an interesting demographical note. Most of these women are Italian or Jewish. Many of them are divorced from or widows of their foreign-born husband — some have even remarried American citizens. Most were born to immigrant parents, but some are second or even third generation American. Some were immigrants who had been naturalized as children through their fathers, lost citizenship upon marriage, and then regained it as adults. Some of the women were shockingly young at the time of the marriages that lost them their citizenship — Lucy Guarino was two months shy of her 14th birthday at the time of her marriage to an Italian citizen. She had also been born in Newark, and in December of 1950, petitioned the same court as Rose Glickstein in order to regain the citizenship that she had lost due to a decision made at only 13.

Lucy Guarino (born Lucy De Falco)’s application to take the oath of allegiance. She was 13 years old at the time of the marriage that stripped her of her US citizenship.

Both Lucy and Rose had been born to immigrant parents. Both women lost their American citizenship due to teenaged marriages to men substantially older than them — Rose Feldman was only 17 at the time of her marriage to 23-year-old Charles Glickstein, and Lucy DeFalco’s husband was 19, six years her senior. This was not the case with Sarah Shevak, nee Weinberg, who applied for United States citizenship in that same court in Newark. She was only two months younger than her husband Solomon, who had been born in what is now Belarus. Sarah had been born in Manhattan; her father, Isaac, had been born there as well, and her mother, Zillie, was born in Pennsylvania. And yet at 63 years of age, this second generation American was not technically a US citizen, despite her grandparents coming to the US over a century before her 1950 citizenship application.

Sarah Shevak (born Weinberg)’s 1950 application to take the oath of allegiance — signed over a century after her grandparents had immigrated to America.

The law that stripped these women — most of whom who had never left the United States — of their citizenship had been enacted on March 2, 1907 as part of the Expatriation Act. As a result of their loss of citizenship, these women could be subject to deportation. Many were forced to register as enemy aliens during WWI and WWII. 12 years after this law was enacted, another implication was discovered — despite the nineteenth amendment granting women the right to vote, women like Sarah Shevak would not have been able to, despite being born in the United States. And even when the law was technically repealed in 1922 as a part of the Cable Act, women married to aliens “ineligible for citizenship” (typically used to refer to Asians but also to draft dodgers or those who had deserted the US military) still lost their American citizenship upon marriage, as did women who married a non-citizen and then lived abroad for two years.

From the Chicago Eagle, Oct 28, 1922 — the story of Virginia Roth, who became effectively stateless due to this law.

At its core, the law was deeply sexist and xenophobic; similar to arguments against the female vote, arguments against women retaining their US citizenship upon marriage to a noncitizen husband centered around the idea that women could not have loyalties or opinions separate from the husbands. In fact, these laws took that idea one step further, tethering a woman’s identity to her husband’s. Even when the husband’s country of origin did not offer reciprocal citizenship to his wife upon marriage, she would lose her citizenship, rendering her stateless. Tying a woman’s citizenship to her husband’s also meant that if he did not wish to naturalize, she had no path to citizenship — a married woman could not file for citizenship on her own account. Even if she was estranged from her husband, the courts would require a divorce before she could pursue citizenship.

To further complicate the matter, divorce laws of the era were notoriously strict, and in some states, a non-citizen could not file for divorce — effectively holding non-citizen women hostage to their estranged husbands. Even though women’s citizenships became their own — in most cases — following the passage of the Cable Act in 1922, it was not until 1931 that no woman lost her citizenship upon marriage (even if her husband was ineligible for citizenship) and then finally only 1936 that these women were given a path to regain their citizenship — and even then, only if the marriage itself had ended either through death or divorce.

Finally, in 1940, Congress passed a law allowing even married women to regain their lost citizenships — 33 years after they had declared that women had no right to their own nationality independent of their husbands, 18 years after they had declared that only some women had that right depending on who they had married, 9 years after they had declared that all women would retain their citizenships upon marriages, and 4 years after they had declared that the women stripped of their citizenship could regain it regardless of their marital status.

This era of American history — spanning 33 years from its inception to end — is rarely spoken about or taught today. It is little known, even in genealogical circles. And yet, these petitions for repatriation continued long into living memory. In December 1969, a 79 year old widow named Lillian Weber took her oath of citizenship. She was 5'3 and 130lbs with grey hair and brown eyes, the mother of two grown sons — and like Sarah, Rose, and Lucy had been born in America.

Caitlin Hollander is a New York based genealogist, specializing in Jewish genealogy, Holocaust records and documentation, as well as Ashkenazi Jewry in Europe. She works as a forensic genealogist specializing in high value estate cases in New York, Queens, Kings, and Nassau Counties, and her work on citizenship reclamation has been featured in Family Tree Magazine. Caitlin is the co-founder of Hollander-Waas Jewish Heritage Services and can be reached at caitlin@hollander-waas.com.

Originally published at https://www.hollander-waas.com on March 11, 2020.



Caitlin Hollander is a NY-based genealogist specializing in Jewish genealogy, Holocaust documentation, and citizenship reclaimation.

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Caitlin Hollander

Caitlin Hollander is a NY-based genealogist specializing in Jewish genealogy, Holocaust documentation, and citizenship reclaimation.