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Writer Tells Tale Of Ridgefield Suffragist's Fight For Citizenship Rights

Ridgefield resident Josette Williams stands next to Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi following her talk on Alice Paul, a Ridgefield suffragist.
Ridgefield resident Josette Williams stands next to Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi following her talk on Alice Paul, a Ridgefield suffragist. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — Suffragist Alice Paul of Ridgefield might be best known for fighting for the right of women to vote. But she also was instrumental in ensuring citizenship for children with one American parent and one non-U.S. citizen  parent. 

Paul’s work personally affected Ridgefield resident Josette Williams, who spoke at a Ridgefield League of Women Voters gathering Tuesday.

Williams was born in Japan to a Canadian father and an American mother. Since she was born after the Equal Citizenship Bill, which was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was recognized as a U.S. citizen.

But Williams’ sister was born just before the bill was signed, which was not retroactive. When her family tried to enter the U.S., her sister was detained at the border. She was only allowed to enter after the president personally made an exception, Williams said.

A grateful Williams had the chance to meet with Paul later in life. When they met, Paul told her to stay aware of the rights that have been “earned but not yet exercised.”

Paul, who later lived in Ridgefield for part of her life, went to England to study social work shortly after graduating college. She learned that English women lost their citizenship if they married a man who was not a citizen of England.

When Paul returned to the U.S., she took this knowledge to help garner support for the Equal Citizenship Bill. The bill not only helped women, it also covered men, Williams said.

Under today’s laws, a child can become a U.S. citizen regardless of where one is born if one parent is a citizen and meets certain criteria.

Citizenship has become particularly controversial during this year’s election cycle after Donald Trump suggested that fellow Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz could not be president because he was born in Canada. (He can, though, because his mother was a U.S. citizen.)

While the citizenship issue may continue to generate controversy this presidential election season, Paul’s character is hardly debatable.

“She was a very, very interesting lady,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who attended the lecture, told the Daily Voice after the event. “And yet another person from Ridgefield, Connecticut, who has made a tremendous impact on society.”

“I wish I had known her,” he remarked, studying the cardboard cutout of Paul brought to the event by the League of Women Voters.

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