Sorry, Grandma Elsie: Women who lost citizenship over marriage get apology


A Minnesota man got the U.S. Senate to apologize to his grandmother on what would have been her 123rd birthday.

Daniel Swalm spent more than a year drawing attention to the injustice done to his Grandma Elsie and thousands of other women who lost their U.S. citizenship because they married men from foreign countries.

Elsie Knutson was born on Minnesota's Iron Range. But as the Chicago Tribune reports, when she married Swedish immigrant Carl Moren her citizenship was stripped under a 1907 law called the Expatriation Act. Among other effects, it meant that when women gained the right to vote in 1920 there was no ballot for Elsie Moren.

Elsie died in childbirth in 1926 but nearly 90 years later her grandson took up her cause.

Swalm told Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario in March he was researching his family tree at a genealogy center in Chisholm when he learned that his Grandma Elsie had lost her citizenship. Rosario writes that anti-immigrant sentiment ran high early in the Twentieth Century and was reflected in the legislation of the time.

One provision in the text of the 1907 law reads "any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband."

The law was modified in 1922, the Tribune says, but was not repealed until 1940. And the women who lost their citizenship never had it reinstated.

Swalm embarked on a crusade to change that. While he did not get Grandma Elsie's citizenship posthumously restored, his work did lead to the resolution sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Al Franken and Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson which the Senate unanimously approved Friday.

In a statement issued by Franken, Swalm says "When I started this quest a year and half ago, I never dreamed we would be here today. Shepherding this resolution through the Senate and achieving justice for Elsie and her forgotten sisters is the most important thing I have ever done in my life."

An article from The Constitutional Sources Project takes a closer look at the Expatriation Act of 1907.

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