Citizenship; Civil rights; Marriage; Women's rights


American Politics | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Political Science | Politics and Social Change | Women's Studies


Most countries associate being a citizen with having certain legal rights and being born in that country, although this has not always been the case, especially in the United States. When writing the U. S. Constitution, the founding fathers were thinking of white, male landowners to be given the legal rights as citizens. This would leave the remaining population of women, African Americans and other people of color to fight to be recognized as citizens. The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first legislative act that defined who could be citizens in the United States. It allowed citizenship for immigrants that were white and had good character. After the Civil War, section one of the Fourteenth Amendment gave the majority of people born in the United States the title of being a citizen. This amendment was passed to give citizenship to slaves from the South but women born or naturalized in the United States assumed that it meant that they were citizens too. Women would be informed by the government that their citizenship would be based on their marriage to their husbands. This would become known as derivative citizenship.

This article examines case laws and statutes that would restrict women from becoming full citizens by dictating who they could marry. It argues that, by restricting marriage rights, the United States government was able to mold the American population. Women who wanted to become citizens in America were reliant on the patriarchal and moralistic views of men on what American women should be.