'A married woman, or a minor, lunatic or idiot' : the struggle of British women against disability in nationality, 1914-1933
This thesis is concerned with attempts to change the law which placed a British married woman under disability in nationality and the reasons these attempts failed between 1914 and 1933. Under provisions operative throughout the Empire, a British woman lost her nationality by marrying a foreigner, whereas a foreign woman became British by marriage to a British subject; a married woman could not be naturalized. By showing up the plight of British-born women, German by marriage, who were subject to the restrictions on enemy aliens, World War I proved a catalyst in feminist thinking on nationality and throughout the inter-war years a determined lobby pressed for an 'independent nationality', unaffected by marriage. Their case, supported by the major women's organisations, was based on sex equality and also practical justice, because a British-born woman could lose her vote or pension rights through a foreign marriage. The chief advocate of independent nationality was a Scottish barrister, Chrystal Macmillan, whose bill to implement it was introduced repeatedly into parliament between 1922 and 1939. The House of Commons favoured the reform, as a Joint Committee of 1923 and a resolution of 1925 made clear, but could not implement it because of the imperial nature of British nationality law; Imperial Conference discussions demonstrated that not all Dominions would accept a breach in 'family unity' in nationality, and Britain could not legislate unilaterally. A Conference in 1930 for the Codification of International Law indicated that independent nationality was not generally acceptable internationally either, and the resultant Hague Convention, to the disappointment of women who had demonstrated at The Hague for Independent Nationality, merely guarded against a woman being made stateless by a foreign marriage. In Britain, through a Pass the Bill Committee of national organisations set up by Macmillan and at the League of Nations through a Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality, women agitated against the Convention, and for independent nationality. The Consultative Committee lost its effectiveness because its members could not agree on the best means of achieving justice for married women in nationality. Meanwhile, the British parliament was offered a choice of legislation on women's nationality; in 1933 the bill for independent nationality sponsored by Macmillan's committee and a Government measure to bring British nationality legislation into line with the Hague Convention, preparatory to ratifying it, were simultaneously introduced. Despite ardent efforts by both the moderate and activist wings of the nationality lobby, the Government Bill was passed, the case for independent nationality lost until 1948. The insuperable obstacle to its attainment in the period under consideration was the need for unanimous Dominion support for any change in the nationality law, a need reinforced, ironically enough, when the Dominions gained full legislative autonomy, under the 1931 Statute of Westminster, by the inclusion of common nationality as part of the legal nexus of the Commonwealth. Between 1914 and 1933 the women's cause in nationality was soundly defeated by the imperial cause.
Advisor: Omer-Cooper, John
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Married women Great Britain Nationality; Married women Commonwealth countries Nationality; Citizenship, Loss of Commonwealth countries; Citizenship, Loss of Great Britain
Research Type: Thesis