Kelly v. Owen
Annotate this Case
74 U.S. 496 (1868)
U.S. Supreme Court
Kelly v. Owen, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 496 496 (1868)
Kelly v. Owen
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 496
1. The Act of Congress of February 10, 1855, which declares
"That any woman who might lawfully be naturalized under the existing laws, married, or who shall be married to a citizen of the United States shall be deemed and taken to be a citizen"
confers the privileges of citizenship upon women married to citizens of the United States if they are of the class of persons for whose naturalization the previous acts of Congress provide.
2. The terms "married," or "who shall be married" in the act do not refer to the time when the ceremony of marriage is celebrated, but to a state of marriage. They mean that whenever a woman who under previous acts might be naturalized is in a state of marriage to a citizen, she becomes, by that fact, a citizen also. His citizenship, whenever it exists, confers citizenship upon her.
3. The object of the act was to allow the citizenship of the wife to follow that of her husband without the necessity of any application for naturalization on her part.
4. The terms "who might lawfully be naturalized under the existing laws" only limit the application of the law to free white women.
In 1848, one Miles Kelly, a native of Ireland, emigrated to the United States and settled in the District of Columbia. In January, 1853, he married Ellen Duffy, and in May, 1855, was naturalized. He subsequently acquired several lots in the City of Washington and died in March, 1862, seized and possessed of them, intestate and without issue, but leaving to survive him in the United States the said Ellen, his widow, and two sisters, Ellen Owen and Margaret Kahoe. His widow claimed the residue of his estate, after the payment of debts, to the exclusion of his sisters, Mrs. Owen and Mrs. Kahoe. These set up that they were entitled to a share of the estate as the heirs at law of the deceased, and brought the present suit on the equity side of the Supreme Court of the District for the sale or partition of the estate. The court decided in favor of the widow, and by its decree gave her the entire estate.
From this decree the sisters appealed to the Supreme Court in banc, and by this latter court the decree was reversed. The widow then appealed to this Court.
On the 10th of February, 1855, Congress passed an act [Footnote 1] entitled "An act to secure the right of citizenship to children of citizens of the United States, born out of the limits thereof," the second section of which provides
"That any woman who might lawfully be naturalized under the existing laws, married or who shall be married to a citizen of the United States, shall be deemed and taken to be a citizen."
All the parties, the widow and the two sisters, were aliens by birth, but they asserted that they became citizens by their respective marriages. Whether this was so or not depended upon the construction given to the section of the act of 1855 above quoted.
Ellen, the widow, arrived in the United States in 1837, between the age of fourteen and fifteen, and had remained in the country ever since.
The sister, Ellen Owen, arrived in 1856, and was married to Edward Owen in 1861. He was naturalized in 1835. The sister, Margaret Kahoe, arrived in the United States in 1850, and was married to James Kahoe in 1852. He was naturalized in 1854.