A Woman Without a Country

I AM one of those individuals who gained by marriage, in addition to a husband, another nationality. Under the present law of the United States of America I am still an American citizen and am duly registered in the Consul-General’s office in Shanghai under the name of ‘Mamie Fraser Hall Porritt.’ I am registered in His Britannic Majesty’s Consulate-General under the name of ‘Mamie Fraser Porritt, wife of James C. Porritt.’ To be perfectly British I have to drop that good English name ‘Hall,’ retaining the Scotch ‘Fraser’ and American ‘Mamie.’

This dual nationality is not without interest or incident. Its perplexities began before marriage and its privileges last even longer. It required three marriage certificates, each issued in duplicate, to make the marriage legal and me law-abiding. I arrived in Shanghai three days before I was to be married, to find that my husbandto-be had arranged everything, from the first cherub on the wedding cake to the last bottle of champagne, except to find out our bearings in the matrimonial sea of entangling alliances. From the dock we went to the American Consulate, filled in numerous forms, and satisfied the powers that be that I really was an American citizen. Technically we followed the law, but they knew I was an American before I finished asking for the certificate, since I was born and lived twentyfive good years in Georgia, and the only possible way I can keep that a secret from the world is to keep my mouth forever closed, for I have a pure and undefiled Southern drawl and a United Daughters of the Confederacy medal, of both of which I am very proud.

Having satisfied the American Consul, been assured that he would send a representative to the Cathedral to witness the ceremony and that he would write a letter to the British Consul certifying to my American nationality, and that I should still remain American after I was married, we went to the Dean of the English Cathedral and there filled out various forms, thus fulfilling the religious requirements of the British law. Three days later we were married in the English Cathedral. The American Consul, true to his word, witnessed the ceremony and issued us two certificates. The Dean of the Cathedral likewise gave us two, properly signed and witnessed, which looked as if they would be good for alimony in any court in the world.

But we were not through. There was the British civil ceremony. I had lived in Shanghai for two years previously and established proper residence according to American law. But under the British requirements I had to reside here three weeks immediately preceding the posting of the marital banns in the British Consulate. Armed with four marriage certificates, we spent a two weeks’ honeymoon in Hongkong, returning to Shanghai like any properly married couple. Three weeks after our return, and five weeks after we had been married in the English Cathedral, we went to the British Consulate, applied for marriage forms, filled in many and various questions, and our wedding banns were posted. And the joke here is that the British Consulate had to recognize the Cathedral ceremony, and the banns were posted in my married name. They read like this: ‘Mamie Fraser Porritt, formerly Hall, to James Charlesworth Porritt.’ After the banns had been up for ten days we arranged to be married again, got our bridesmaid and best man for witnesses, and went through another ceremony. By that time I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to be properly married.

It was very difficult for me to remember the correct way to sign my name. First I signed it ‘Mamie Fraser Hall, formerly Porritt,’ which was all wrong and had to be done over, and the second time I signed it ‘Mamie Fraser Porritt, formerly Porritt,’ to the disgust of the official, who thought I was getting old enough to know my own name.

Now, according to British law, I am a British subject and can claim its privileges and protection. According to American law, I am still American. Formerly I should have lost my nationality and gained British citizenship; but the present law allows me to keep my own American nationality if I so desire. Alien women marrying American citizens, however, do not gain American citizenship. Consequently, a British woman who marries an American citizen loses her own and does not gain any nationality. She is literally ‘a woman without a country.’ Not long after we were married I received a notice from the American Consulate to register myself there as a citizen, and at the same time I had my American passport amended to show my married name. Unfortunately an Italian visa had been put in the space reserved for amendments, and my amended married name had to go forward several pages. While this brought on no serious consequences, it was the cause of more than one amusing incident. I want to keep my American citizenship, and to do so I must register regularly every year and must make periodical visits to America. Otherwise, I become an alien, and cannot reside there at any future time for longer than six months.

In the summer of 1928 we were traveling to England from China via Siberia. We were advised by our respective consuls to travel on separate passports. If I traveled on my husband’s British passport it would complicate my standing as an American citizen when we visited the United States on our return trip to China. On our way from Shanghai to the Siberian border we had to stay two days in Harbin, a very interesting Chinese-Russian city full of the backwash and salvage of two nations. At the hotel where we stayed we had to give in our passports for identification. Later that day we came into the lobby of the hotel and our sense of propriety was shocked to read on the published guests’ list: ‘Room 216 — Jas. C. Porritt, Esq., and Miss M. F. Hall.’ The clerk at the desk had failed to notice the amendment to my passport. The Soviet official on the trans-Siberian train looked dubiously at our two passports, and, with an extra-officious and searching look at me, asked in brusque Russian, ‘Who is this dame?’ The same thing happened in Poland, Germany, and France, where the officials were unaccustomed to married couples traveling on separate passports. At Dover, England, I came through the gate with my husband as a British subject and had to go out and come in through another gate as an alien with an American passport.

In the event of my husband’s death I am still a British subject and can claim citizenship privileges anywhere within the Empire. If I fail to keep registered at the American Consulate, or if I fail to return to America for periodical visits, I automatically lose my rights as a citizen of the United States of America. It is easy to register, but rather difficult to make periodical visits from this distance. What shall I do? Shall I give up my American citizenship? Under the present law, if I give it up I can never reside there again for longer than six months at a time, unless I take out papers and become naturalized. Imagine going through the process of naturalization when one of my grandfathers rode horseback from Georgia to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence!

In the making of laws the good to the greatest number must be kept in mind, and any inconvenience the present law causes to the few of us who have dual citizenship is n’t important. We are doubtless twice blessed. The unfortunate ones are those who, whether for the good of the majority or not, lose their own nationality and rights of citizenship and do not gain another by marriage.