At long last, women stripped of citizenship for marrying foreigners get an apology

  • Article by: Richard Simon
  • Los Angeles Times
  • May 18, 2014 - 9:25 PM


– The Senate has a message for Grandma Elsie: so sorry. The apology came in the form of a resolution expressing regret for a law passed more than a century ago that stripped thousands of women of their U.S. citizenship for marrying ­foreigners.

The law gained attention when Daniel Swalm of St. Paul discovered that his grandmother Elsie Knutson Moren, born and raised on the Iron Range in Minnesota, lost her U.S. citizenship under an obscure 1907 law, after she married a legal immigrant from Sweden.

Swalm met with aides to U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who introduced the resolution. The measure, which gained support from other senators who heard from descendants of other American-born women who lost their citizenship, passed last week.

“I hope all the people who have their own Grandma Elsie in their family history take this opportunity to put a candle on a cupcake in her honor and give thanks for justice finally served after all these years,” Swalm said.

He praised Franken and cosponsor U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for “recognizing the wrong that was done a century ago and taking the steps necessary for the Senate to make amends.”

“What Elsie Moren and many other women went through was wrong and should never happen again,” Franken said in a statement. “Our resolution won’t scrub history, but with its passage in the Senate, we hope to bring attention to the injustice that these women faced.”

When women gained the right to vote in 1920, Elsie did not, according to the resolution’s sponsors. By 1922, Congress had acted to allow most American-born women who married foreigners to remain U.S. citizens.

But those who married men ineligible for citizenship, such as Chinese immigrants, still forfeited their U.S. citizenship, until that restriction was later repealed.

Elsie, of Two Harbors, died in 1926 at age 35 due to childbirth complications, never having regained her rights despite living her entire life in Minnesota. But her foreign-born husband, Carl Moren, became a U.S. citizen in 1928.

“Grandma Elsie was born on May 16, 1891,” Swalm said. “What a wonderful way to celebrate her 123rd birthday.”

The resolution expresses “sincere sympathy and regret” to descendants of women whose citizenship was revoked under the Expatriation Act of 1907, and reaffirms the Senate’s “commitment to preserving civil rights and constitutional protections for all people of the United States.”

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