Tuesday, August 23, 2022

When Rose Gained, Lost, and Regained US Citizenship


Rose Fishman Poticha (1896-1967) married into a distant branch of my father's family. I was researching her because I wondered whether her family lived near my father's ancestors before all came to America early in the 20th century.

Looking at the timeline of her life, I discovered she was caught up in that unfortunate period when women who married non-US citizens lost their own US citizenship.

Background: the Expatriation Act of 1907

On March 2, 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which stated that "any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband." 

This applied only to women...in fact, men didn't lose their US citizenship if they married a woman who was not a US citizen. (For a more detailed explanation, see the pdf here.)

Note that this act didn't cover just US-born women. Also women who were naturalized US citizens automatically became non-citizens when they married a foreigner. And that's where Rose's story comes into play.

Naturalized under her father's naturalization

Rose Fishman was born in Radomyshl, at the time part of Russia (now part of Ukraine). Her parents, Sam and Bertha Fishman, brought the family to America early in the 20th century. 

Sam Fishman quickly initiated the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, and he was naturalized in February of 1914. Under the citizenship rules of that time, his daughter Rose became a U.S. citizen as well.

Rose loses her citizenship by marrying a non-citizen

Two years later, Rose married Russian-born Harry Poticha, on February 6, 1916, in St. Louis, Missouri. Under the Expatriation Act, Rose lost her US citizenship because her husband was not a US citizen. 

Years later, Harry Poticha did become a naturalized US citizen. But meanwhile, Rose's citizenship situation was addressed by yet another act of Congress.

Background: The Cable Act

Women gained the right to vote in America starting in 1920, and perhaps that contributed to the pressure to change the messy citizenship situation created by the Expatriation Act of 1907.

Representative John Cable introduced the Cable Act of 1922, which was also called (appropriately enough) the Married Women's Independent Nationality Act

Under the Cable Act, women retained their US citizenship if they married a foreign-born man who was eligible for US citizenship, even if not yet a citizen and even if he ultimately didn't naturalize. Women's nationality was somewhat, as the act's title indicates, independent of their spouses' nationality. 

I'm oversimplifying the explanation and terms of this act, but you get the idea. IMHO, I doubt every woman affected by the Expatriation Act was aware she'd lost her US citizenship, just as I suspect these women weren't always sure how to regain their US citizenship. 

Rose regains her citizenship

Decades after Rose lost her US citizenship by marrying Harry Poticha, she petitioned to become a US citizen on her own.

As this image shows, she regained US citizenship on November 16, 1942, 26 years after losing it due to her marriage to someone not a US citizen.

Not unique in my family tree

Rose's situation was NOT unique in my family tree. I had a number of US-born female ancestors who lost their US citizenship when they married men who were not US citizens. But Rose is the only one I've noticed who was first naturalized, then lost her US citizenship by marrying a foreign-born man, then applied for naturalization on her own.

"Timeline" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt from Amy Johnson Crow.


  1. Isn't this outrageous? Gender discrimination on purpose. Another reason everyone needs to pay attention to details. Thank you.

  2. I was unaware of this. Thanks for sharing Rose's story.

  3. I have to wonder: Did American men view US-born women as deserters when they married immigrants? After all, there was no reciprocal mechanism that made them citizens of their husbands' countries. So they became stateless--a very dangerous condition in the 20th century and maybe more so today. They were being punished for "marrying out."