Citzenship and Gender. The derivative citizenship of married women in Germany, 1890-1933

Laura Maria Frey

The project addresses a gap in historical documentation by connecting research on citizenship and gender history. It focuses on the historical analysis of derivative citizenship of married women during the German Empire, 1880 to 1933. The project analysis is based on the following questions: How did the gendered system of inclusion and exclusion of people in and from the German state develop in an (inter)national context? How did the trans(national) fights to become citizens by different groups of actors develop during the German Empire? What consequences did derivative citizenship have on the lives of women? What forms of resistance became possible through this legal construct?

The central thesis of the project begins from the assumption that women were not considered to be political subjects and therefore could be included in or excluded from the “body politic” through marriage. However, citizenship was not only a tool of inclusion or exclusion by the State, but also a space of resistance. For instance, there are cases in which women married German citizens to avoid deportation from the German Empire or to ensure their secure stay in the German Empire.  Interestingly, some women used this legal construct to flee the German state, which offers insight into the possibilities that opened up with the system of derivative citizenship. The struggle to become a citizen of a country can be considered part of a broader fight for recognition by the state, as it provides people with state protection, and certain political rights. On a discursive level, the arguments used by different actors fighting for an independent citizenship of women ranged from nationalistic, exclusive arguments to the quest for the acknowledgment of basic citizenship rights.

The project is based on the analysis of a diverse body of edited and unedited sources. The subject of the project –the negotiation of derivative citizenship—explores how citizenship can transcend the nation state and is subject to intermittent relevance contingent upon international relations. As a consequence, the research project operates on a national, trans- and international level that rely on methods developed in the field of transnational history. Through an integrated analysis, this project focuses on individual actors in the struggle for citizenship to discern the complex interactions between and amongst different levels of European society.