This article stands at the intersection of women’s history and the history of citizenship, immigration, and naturalization laws. The first part of this article proceeds by examining the general legal status of women under the laws of coverture, in which married women’s legal existence was “covered” by that of their husbands. It then discusses the 1907 Expatriation Act, which resulted in women who were U.S. citizens married to non-U.S. citizens losing their citizenship. The following sections discuss how suffragists challenged the 1907 law in the courts and how passage of the Nineteenth Amendment—and with it a new concept of women’s political autonomy—conflicted with the 1907 law. The article continues by analyzing the 1922 Cable Act, which was intended to redress the 1907 law by providing a process for U.S. women who had lost their citizenship to regain it. Yet the Cable Act was extraordinarily stingy, and it created new problems for immigrant women attempting to gain U.S. citizenship and for expatriated U.S. women attempting to regain citizenship.
The second part of the article explores the actual legal problems that women brought to Chicago’s renowned Immigrants’ Protective League—an organization founded and managed by some of the leading feminist reformers of the Progressive and New Deal Era and which provided legal advice and help to immigrants. Using the League’s documents, the article excavates how the 1921 and 1924 Immigration Quota Acts, along with the Cable Act, continued to discriminate against women and prevented some immigrant women from reuniting their families or gaining the benefits of citizenship. The article then examines the onset of large-scale deportations of immigrants in the 1930s and the specific and gendered pain that such immigrant women faced. The final part of the article explores the League’s efforts to amend discriminatory immigration and citizen- ship laws.