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When the law said “no you don’t”

One hundred and five (corrected) years ago tomorrow, a young couple married in Tarrant County, Texas.

The bride: Maud Lillian Cottrell. Born 26 January 1890 to Martin Gilbert and Martha (Johnson) Cottrell and, thus, older sister to The Legal Genealogist‘s grandfather, Clay Rex Cottrell.

The groom: Morris Gottlieb. Born 14 October 1883 to Isaac and Friederike (May) Gottlieb, a jeweler.

The license was issued five days earlier, on 12 September 1912, by Charles H. Rose, deputy clerk of Tarrant County.

The marriage itself was performed by R. F. Peden, a Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1 in Tarrant Coiunty. He filed the return on the 20th of September and it was recorded on the 24th.

All properly recorded in the county records there in Fort Worth, Texas.1

What isn’t recorded in those Texas county records is the other thing that happened 105 (corrected)years ago tomorrow, when my grandfather’s sister married the love of her life.

What you won’t find recorded in those documents is that this Texas-born daughter of a Texas-born father and Kentucky-born mother lost her American citizenship on that September day, 105 (corrected)years ago tomorrow.

In saying “I do” to Morris Gottlieb — an immigrant born in Germany who hadn’t yet become a naturalized citizen — Maud Cottrell had to endure the laws of her own country saying “oh no you don’t.”

Maud was one of thousands of American-born women caught up in the anti-immigrant frenzy of the early 20th century, when a wave of anti-immigrant feeling led the Congress to enact “An Act In reference to the expatriation of citizens and their protection abroad.”2

Section 3 of that act provided, in its entirety:

That any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband. At the termination of the marital relation she may resume her American citizenship, if abroad, by registering as an American citizen within one year with a consul of the United States, or by returning to reside in the United States, or, if residing in the United States at the termination of the marital relation, by continuing to reside therein.3

As a result of that statute, every American-born woman who married a man who wasn’t then a citizen automatically and immediately lost her American citizenship. Maud, who hadn’t spent a day outside the United States at that point, became a German national the instant she said I do on that September day in Texas 105 (corrected) years ago tomorrow.

Oh, Congress came to its senses, finally in 1922, when it passed the Cable Act giving women equal nationality rights with men.4 As long as the man she married was eligible for citizenship, an American-born bride could keep her American citizenship.5

In the 1922 statute, women like Maud were thrown a bone: they could regain their citizenship by naturalization.6 By 1936, Congress even tossed these marital expatriates another bone: they didn’t have to go through the whole naturalization process, but could simply file an application and take an oath of allegiance — but only if their marriage had ended through death or divorce.7

No luck there for Maud: her marriage to Morris was long and fruitful and ended only with his death in 1961.8

Maud did succeed in getting her citizenship back, but only through the tedious process of naturalization.9

An American-born child of American-born parents, naturalized.

All because when she said “I do,” 105 (corrected) years ago tomorrow, the laws of her own country said, “oh no you don’t.”


  1. Tarrant County, Texas, Marriage Book 28:92, Gottlieb – Cottrell, 1912, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Fort Worth.
  2. “An Act In reference to the expatriation of citizens and their protection abroad,” 34 Stat. 1228 (2 March 1907).
  3. Ibid., §3, 34 Stat. 1228-1229.
  4. An act Relative to the naturalization and citizenship of married women, 42 Stat. 1021 (22 September 1922).
  5. Ibid., §3, 42 Stat. 1022.
  6. Ibid., §4.
  7. “An Act To repatriate native-born women who have heretofore lost their citizenship by marriage to an alien, and for other purposes,” 49 Stat. 1917 (25 June 1936).
  8. State of New Mexico, Certificate of Death, Morris Gottlieb, 21 Nov 1961; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Santa Fe.
  9. United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, certificate # 4697969, Maud L. Gottlieb, 11 Sept 1939.
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