When an American Pacifist Became an Alien in Her own Homeland (and Had to be Ready to Kill to Reclaim Her Citizenship)

Peace & Change, EarlyView.


Mabel Boe was born in Iowa but lost her U.S. citizenship when she married a Norwegian. Federal law at the time required that she relinquish her own citizenship to share her husband’s. When she sought to regain her American standing, she found her way blocked by a hypothetical question that the Bureau of Naturalization had introduced after World War I as a test of loyalty: “If necessary, are you willing to take up arms in defense of this country?” Boe, a member of the Church of the Brethren, said she could not kill another person. She became one of scores of conscientious objectors in the 1920s and 1930s who were denied citizenship over the question. In one of the oddest cases in the history of naturalization, Boe spent decades waiting to reclaim her U.S. citizenship, long after her husband, who shared her pacifist beliefs, had himself become an American.

This was originally published on Wiley: Peace & Change: Table of Contents.