Citizenship and immigration have always been an issue in America. The issue was especially important in areas like North Dakota that had a high percentage of immigrants.
For example, according to the 1910 U.S. Census, about 60% of the people residing in North Dakota had immigrated to the United States. This was actually lower than most of the other Midwestern states. South Dakota was over 70%.
With this many immigrants, there were obviously romances and marriages between American citizens and immigrants who were not citizens. The Cable Act, enacted as federal law in 1907, said a woman who marries a foreign citizen living in the United States took on the nationality of her husband. An American-born woman who married an immigrant from Norway was classified as a Norwegian by U.S. law.
The law did specify that if and when the husband went through the naturalization process and became an American citizen, it also applied to the wife.
The theory was the wife would become a citizen of her husband’s country. In reality, not all countries recognized the citizenship of the wife of a citizen living outside his homeland. This would have left some women of that era without a nationality.
In 1931, the law changed and the woman retained her citizenship unless she took actions to renounce her American citizenship or worked toward becoming a citizen of another country.
But the new law was retroactive and women who lost their citizenship between 1907 and 1931 remained in citizenship limbo.
In 1936, a new law allowed women who had lost their American citizenship to regain it if their foreign husband had died or they had divorced. If the couple were still married and the man had not become a naturalized American citizen, the wife was still prohibited from returning to her American citizenship status.
That changed with a law passed in 1940. By signing an oath of allegiance, the woman could regain her American citizenship through a process called repatriation.
The process evidently was a limited time offer because an article in a January 1941 edition noted the deadline for the “short method” of regaining their citizenship. There was enough interest in the process that the District Court set up special days in Jamestown and Carrington to process repatriation claims.
Judge R.G. McFarland presided over the process for the third judicial district of North Dakota. On Friday, Jan. 10, 1941, McFarland convened a special session in the courtroom of the Stutsman County Courthouse - the same building preserved as a historic site as the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse. On Saturday, Jan. 11, 1941, McFarland traveled to Carrington for the same process.
There aren't any newspaper articles relating how many women were repatriated as American citizens during those days.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com