A post on the BBC website about a new BBC 2 series, Mixed Britannia, reminded me of a folder I catalogued last week relating to the Nationality of Married Women Committee. The full name given in the folder is ‘Nationality of Married Women – Pass the Bill Committee’ which is a very succinct description of their aims. The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of 1914 instigated a system whereby a man could only lose his British nationality through his own choice. In contrast the Act meant that women now had no choice over their nationality. This meant if a British women married an ‘alien’ she lost her British citizenship automatically, even if the married couple remained in Britain and she did not gain the nationality of her husbands country of birth.
This three-part series starting on Thursday October 7th, begins with the story of A Chinese seaman Stanley Ah Foo who arrived in Liverpool in 1912. He met and married an English women Emily and remained in England to raise their family. So, although the family remained in the UK she lost her British citizenship and was now an ‘alien’ along with her husband. I’m unclear however whether this meant that, like her husband, she would have to carry a photographic ID card around with her at all times. The programme will talk to two of their daughters and you can see a preview of the programme on the BBC website.
The folder in the NUWT Collection which I was cataloguing, ‘Nationality of Married Women – Pass the Bill Committee’, reference UWT/D/119/1, gives details of the NUWT involvement in attempts to get this Act revoked and make the status of men and women married to non-British citizens equal. In addition to signing petitions and Memorial’s presented to the Prime Minister calling for changes to the Bill, the NUWT also took on responsibility for the cost and labour in printing and distributing the minutes of meetings of the Nationality of Married Women Committee and distributed literature such as a leaflet entitled ‘Eight Reasons why you should support the Nationality of Married Women Bill’.
The obvious inequalities in Acts like this really astonishes me sometimes, although sadly I’m sure if I thought hard enough I could find plenty of contemporary examples of such inequalities as well – in fact I don’t even need to think that hard – the laws banning same-sex marriage, as opposed to civil partnership, being a prime example. Thankfully however the issue of women’s nationality upon marriage is no longer one of them as in 1948 the Nationality Act was passed giving women the same rights as men upon marriage to someone from another country, that is, the power to make their own decision and retain their British nationality if they so wanted to.
The records of the Nationality of Married Women Committee are held at the Women’s Library in London and our own records of NUWT involvement in the protests to change the Nationality Act will be available on our online catalogue once the current cataloguing project is complete. In the meantime however they are still available for researchers to come and use – here are our contact details if you could like to get in touch.