As the current exhibit OK, I’ll Do It Myself: Narratives of Intrepid Women in the American Wilderness at the Kislak Center attests, the Penn Libraries’ Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness is a wide-ranging one. Aphra Behn and Willa Cather sit cheek-by-jowl with Betsy Bell and Mary Harwell Catherwood; anthologies of Native American folklore occupy the same shelf as a novel about Japanese mail-order brides. The collection is also rich in juvenile literature, from classics like Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Yearling and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables to picture books, readers, and series both familiar (The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew) and largely forgotten (The Motor Maids, Three Vassar Girls). Even when the stories are formulaic, the authors’ lives seldom are, as a glance at the careers of Mildred Wirt Benson or Elizabeth Williams Champney demonstrates. Such is no less true of Marjorie Vetter (1898-1977): author, editor, reviewer, and—as a result of sexist twentieth-century immigration and nationality laws—an American citizen twice over, both native-born and naturalized.
Born Marjorie Meyn in Brooklyn, N.Y., she claimed her “race” to be “German” on her petition for naturalization: her father, Emil H. Meyn (1869-1933), was the son of immigrants from Holstein who settled in Utica, N.Y. Emil Meyn began working an artist in his hometown in the mid-1880s, but in 1889 he relocated downstate to make his way in New York City. By the turn of the century he had abandoned art for photoengraving and the name “Emil” for “Henry” (and sometimes the even more Americanized “Harry”).¹ He had also married Ellenor Stites (1876-1953), daughter of Brooklyn jewelry manufacturer Daniel G. Stites, in 1897. “The Stites family is one of those that early settled in New Jersey, and is well known and respected throughout that State, and also in Philadelphia,” noted Richard Edwards in New York’s Great Industries (1884), adding that the Stites firm was “in all respects … one of the best, as it is certainly one of the oldest in this country, and the success which has attended it has been fairly earned and richly merited” (141).² The Meyns quickly added two daughters to their family: Marjorie Ellenor—who “made my advent into the family in my grandfather’s house in Brooklyn” (Vetter, “The World Is So Full” 10)—in 1898 and Dorothy Adelaide in 1900. After brief stints renting in Brooklyn and Montclair, N.J., Henry Meyn purchased a house in the recently developed Lefferts Manor neighborhood in Flatbush. “My childhood was an unusually happy one,” Vetter wrote in 1953.
My parents, my younger sister, and I were devoted to one another. My mother was only a scant twenty years older than I and eternally young at heart. Most of the neighborhood children gathered at our house, for my mother enjoyed the fun as much as we did. She was always ready to plan a picnic or a party or to take seven or eight of us to the beach in summer or to Prospect Park for ice skating in winter … When our parents dined out, we were permitted to have a friend spend the night with us. Those were merry occasions. For several years—the time when I was about seven to thirteen—we had a German maid, Wilhelmina, who was a wonderful sport. She entered into all our fun and never told tales. (“The World Is So Full” 10)
Both sisters attended Erasmus Hall High School, from which Marjorie graduated in 1916 and Dorothy in 1918. “I liked school,” Vetter remembered, “and enjoyed my teachers, even the strict ones. I used to write for the school papers and act in whatever plays or dramatic clubs came along” (“The World Is So Full” 10). Nursing ambitions of a college career, Marjorie studied for a further two years at Packer Collegiate Institute, graduating in 1918. But romance intervened and her life took a different turn, as she recalled in 1953:
When I was sixteen, I met Carlos Cinta, a student at St. John’s College in Brooklyn. At Christmas he gave me a beautiful Pekingese puppy, Ah Ting … After his graduation Carlos commuted between Cuba and New York for the next four years, until he persuaded me to give up plans to take my junior and senior years at Smith College, and marry him instead. (Vetter 11)
Born in 1895, Carlos Manuel Cinta was the son of Francisco Valdés Cinta, a wealthy tobacco grower and merchant of Guanajay, Cuba.² Carlos first came to the United States as a student in 1912 with his younger brothers Enrique and Francisco. He was 19 when he met Marjorie in 1914 and by her timeline graduated from St. John’s College (now St. John’s University) the following year, evidently joining the family tobacco business.³ Their betrothal was announced on 18 January 1919 at a card party hosted by Harry and Ellenor Meyn. “The news was revealed when the favors were distributed,” reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “old-fashioned bouquets of pink rosebuds containing small pink hearts, on which were the names of Miss Meyn and Mr. Cinta. Miss Meyn is a Packer girl, class of 1918. Mr. Cinta is the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Francis [sic] Cinta of Guanajay, Cuba” (“Miss Meyn’s Engagement”). After a ten-month engagement, the two were wed on 13 November 1919 at her parents’ home in Brooklyn, and Marjorie Cinta lost her American citizenship.
Her case was far from unique. Section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 had ordained that
any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband. At the termination of the marital relation she may resume her American citizenship, if abroad, by registering as an American within one year with a consul of the United States, or, if residing in the United States at the termination of the marital relation, by continuing to reside therein. (34 Stat. 1228, sec. 3)
In principle the law “reflected the government’s effort to avoid cases of dual nationality as well as other difficulties commonly arising from conflicts with other nations’ laws governing transnational marriages” (Bredbenner 58). But it also reflected the popular view that a woman’s transnational marriage signaled her rejection of American society and democratic values, a sexist ripple in a larger current of nativism and “increasing anxiety about the visibility and loyalties of the immigrant population in the United States” (Bredbenner 63). Largely focused on voting rights, few American feminists had objected to derivative citizenship for women when it applied only to the immigrant wives of citizen men (as established by the Naturalization Act of 1855⁵), but when “its rules began to prey on the rights of native-born women” they quickly recognized that “[w]omen’s disenfranchisement and marital expatriation were kindred problems. Both issues highlighted the legal impediment standing between the woman citizen and her achievement of an independent political identity” (Bredbenner 64). Once the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed women’s suffrage, “[f]ederal lawmakers, sensing the existence of wide support for independent citizenship among the newly enfranchised female population, did not wish to alienate these new and numerous voters,” leading “both major political parties to support independent citizenship for resident women” (Bredbenner 81). (Nonresidents were still viewed dubiously.) The Married Women’s Independent Nationality Act of 1922 (also known as the Cable Act after its sponsor, John L. Cable) ended both derivative citizenship and marital expatriation. As long as a woman married to a foreigner did not formally renounce her U.S. citizenship or “[reside] continuously for two years in a foreign State of which her husband is a citizen or subject, or for five years continuously outside the United States” she remained an American citizen (42 Stat. 1021b, sec. 3).⁶ But the Cable Act also specifically exempted the woman “who, before the passage of this Act, has lost her United States citizenship by reason of her marriage to an alien eligible for citizenship” (42 Stat. 1021b, sec. 4). She would have to petition for naturalization alongside her foreign-born sisters.⁷
Thus Marjorie Cinta was designated an alien in every census and passenger manifest in which she appeared prior to her naturalization in 1933—and there were many such manifests. She and Carlos “spent our winters in Cuba, where I learned to speak Spanish and where I still have many friends. Our summers were spent on Lake Champlain at Vergennes, Vermont, which Carlos loved as much as I do” (Vetter, “The World Is So Full” 11). She later set her two juvenile novels in these cherished places: Cargo for Jennifer (1954) in a Cuba redolent of “spices, garlic, roasting coffee, and an odd, musty, tropical smell” (33) and Champlain Summer (1959) in a Vermont freighted with history and enlivened by the song of the phoebe and the antics of Ah-Ting the Pekingese. Marjorie’s close relationship with her family continued after her marriage: the Cintas frequently gave Marjorie’s parents’ address (first in Brooklyn and later in Larchmont, N.Y.) as their final destination when traveling to the United States and they were enumerated along with Harry, Ellenor and Dorothy at their Lefferts Manor home in the 1925 New York State census. The Richmond Hill Record, reporting the Cintas’ presence at Dorothy’s wedding to William Booth Bunn in 1929, described them as locals: “Mrs. Carlos Cinta, of Larchmont, was her sister’s matron of honor … The ushers were Mr. Carlos Cinta, of Larchmont, and Mr. David Smith, of Poughkeepsie” (“Bunn-Meyn”). Junketing with Carlos (and Ah-Ting!) from New York “back and forth to Cuba and over much of the eastern part of the United States and Canada” during the course of her marriage (Vetter, “The World Is So Full” 11), Marjorie avoided the presumption that she had abandoned her native land for her husband’s.
During this time, American women who married foreigners and “merely [became] citizens of the country of which their husbands are subjects or citizens, merely by marriage” (U.S. Congress, Immigration and Citizenship 19), as Adolph J. Sabath of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization put it during a hearing in 1926, could expect little sympathy from their government while marital loyalty was conflated with national allegiance. Such women “brought [their expatriation] on themselves” by “marr[ying] these foreign dukes and counts … when there are enough Americans for them to select from,” sneered Congressman Samuel Dickstein (U.S. Congress, Immigration and Citizenship 18). The threat posed to marital expatriates by these attitudes was not idle, particularly if they were less fortunate than Marjorie Meyn Cinta in their choice of mate or the accidents of history. Helen Müller Bley, a Bryn Mawr graduate and employee of the United States consulate in Greece, was deprived of her citizenship upon marrying Athenian lawyer Evangelos Papanastasiou in 1916. When food ran short in Greece during World War I, she was told “she could not buy the bread made for the U.S. legation because she was no longer an American. The government then refused to promote her and placed a ceiling on her salary. She eventually lost her job when federal regulations made American citizenship requisite for employment in the consular service” (Breadbenner 81, note 1). Papanastasiou (later Pope) deplored the loss of her foreign service career. “I have always bitterly resented forfeiting my citizenship, which I never formally renounced,” she wrote to the League of Women Voters.
[M]y parents and grandparents were all bred in the United States and I was twenty-five before I ever saw a foreign shore … I pray that you may be interested in me as a test case in the struggle of women to retain their citizenship after marriage, and to break through the walls of the consular service. (quoted in Bagley 1165)
Another public employee, teacher Florence Bain Gual, was threatened with dismissal from her position in a New York City school in 1921 after she and her infant child were deserted by her Cuban husband. “I am an American citizen and the mother of an American citizen,” she wrote to activist Harriot Stanton Blatch, “yet I am to be deprived of my livelihood because of the citizenship of a man” (quoted in Breadbenner 83). Even a successful repatriation might come under subsequent unfavorable review, as in the case of Emily Martin, who “petitioned successfully for naturalization in 1924. During the course of her interview with a naturalization examiner Martin had admitted that she would consider returning to Germany with her two children if her [German] husband preferred to live there” (Breadbenner 141). Her citizenship certificate was revoked by the Bureau of Naturalization shortly after it was granted. Other nonresident expatriates didn’t even make it that far: abandoned by her Italian husband in Italy in the mid-1920s, Louise Riva attempted to return to the United States on a visitor’s visa, but was deported from Ellis Island after stating “that she was going to stay here forever because this is her country” (Breadbenner 141).
At some point before 1933 Marjorie Cinta, too, decided to repatriate, but the circumstances surrounding that choice are difficult to decipher. The plentiful records of the Cintas’ journeys between the United States and Cuba in the 1920s disappear in the 1930s, possibly in response to the Great Depression (during which the bottom fell out of the Cuban sugar industry, devastating the country’s economy) and a decade of political insurgence that unseated one Cuban government after another. It may have seemed prudent for Marjorie to regain her American citizenship during such unsettled times for her husband’s homeland. As far as I have been able to discover, she last appears on an alien passenger manifest on 10 April 1928. Her country of citizenship is given as “Cuba” and her last permanent residence as “U.S.A. N.Y.C.” Her last visit to the United States took place in 1927 and she intends to return to Cuba after a three-month visit with her father, “H.E. Meyer [sic]” in Larchmont, without applying for U.S. citizenship.
The loss of her husband prior to 1941 might also have played a role in Marjorie’s decision to recover her American citizenship, but his exact date of death has proved elusive. In her petition, filed on 9 January 1933, Marjorie identifies herself as married and Carlos as resident in Guanajay, Cuba.
In 1953 she wrote that “[s]ome years after Carlos’s death I married Joseph Vetter” (“The World Is So Full” 11); their marriage license is dated 2 October 1941. It seems probable, then, that Carlos Cinta died in the mid-1930s, after his wife had “renounce[d] absolutely and forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, and particularly to [the] Republic of Cuba” (despite “not having acquired any other nationality by affirmative act”) (Vetter, “Petition”).⁸ If his passing were foreseen rather than sudden, the expectation of widowhood might have prompted a childless Marjorie to reestablish herself in the United States with her beloved family of origin (as indeed she did⁹) rather than trust to the support of her in-laws in volatile Cuba. The Cable Act as amended in 1930 required of marital expatriates “no period of residence within the United States or within the county where the petition is filed” (46 Stat. 854) rather than the usual five, but the witnesses to Marjorie’s petition—Harriet Andersen (née Vaughan; 1877-1948), a naturalized Canadian immigrant, and Dorothy Knust (née Prytherch; 1896-1947), Marjorie’s matron of honor and both the daughter and the wife of a naturalized citizen—generously swore they had been acquainted with her in America since 1 December 1927, though the clause requiring continuous residence in the country during that period was struck through.
An American citizen once more, Marjorie Cinta began writing for The American Girl and was hired as its fiction and book review editor in 1941, a position she held for the better part of at least the next three decades (“Vetter, Marjorie Cinta Meyn”). She relished the work—”I thoroughly enjoy it,” she told the Girl Scout Leader in 1959—cultivating good relations with The American Girl‘s editor and publisher, the redoubtable Esther R. Bien, to whom she inscribed a copy of one of her books “with respect and admiration as my boss and sincere affection as my friend” (“On My Honor”). As fiction editor she cast a wide net, advertising for “well-plotted stories with likely, believable characters and vivid backgrounds. These should be concerned with school, home, human relations, character development, parents, siblings, boy-girl, adventure, mystery, service, sports, etc.” (Writer’s Market 18, 1961, p. 50). Vetter edited four collections of stories from the magazine—American Girl Favorite Stories (1950), On My Honor (1951), Christmas All Year ‘Round (1952), and Stories to Live By (1960)—and collaborated with Laura Vitray on the advice book The Questions Girls Ask (1959). Her two novels were positively received, Cargo for Jennifer (reprinted in the 1960s as Jennifer’s Journey) more so than Champlain Summer. “[N]ew understandings about different ways of life are interestingly if melodramatically achieved,” a Kirkus reviewer wrote of the former. “Tinged with career-romance as well, this is good young fare” (“Cargo for Jennifer”). “Mrs. Vetter knows Cuba well,” Eugenia Garson opined in The New York Times, “and the background of life there is graphically portrayed. This convincing story makes good reading for older girls.”
Marjorie Vetter visited Cuba for the last time in 1948, “shar[ing] the pleasures and alarms” of the trip with her mother Ellenor (Cargo [iii]). She was well aware of the social unrest that preceded the Cuban Revolution, enlivening the pages of Cargo for Jennifer with a student riot in Havana and a secret society stockpiling guns in a cave in Pinar del Río province. Optimistic nevertheless, Vetter has her would-be revolutionary Miguel learn “that the reforms he considered so necessary must come through education and orderly constitutional processes” (226-227). Her protagonist Jennifer Calderón, too, returns to New York from Cuba a wiser young woman “with the self-confidence and self-reliance she had gained in these months with a strange family in a foreign land; Spanish was now as familiar to her as her own native English; never again would she lump together in judgment a whole nation or group of people … She knew now that, whatever their language or background, people were the same everywhere and she was richer for this knowledge” (Vetter, Cargo 236). And unlike her mother Chris who married a dashing Cuban in the teeth of his family’s opposition and lost him young, Jennifer rejects Miguel’s flirtatious advances in favor of down-to-earth American Steve … and a college education financed by her Cuban grandmother. The best of both worlds, as imagined by a woman who twice chose between them.
¹Meyn’s original middle name is nowhere attested, but may have been “Heinrich” given his occasional use of a middle initial “H” in his youth and the simplicity of Anglicizing “Heinrich” to “Henry”.
²The business subsequently foundered. In 1895 the Stites Jewelry Company’s property was seized “on twelve executions, aggregating $10,152” including $1858 owed to Ellenor (“Business Troubles”); the firm was dissolved in 1897. In 1906, the year after his father’s death, Daniel G. Stites filed for bankruptcy (“Bankruptcy Matters”).
³Francisco Valdés Cinta is primarily remembered today for his purchase and renovation of El Niágara in Guanajay, opening within it a theater known as El Cinta. He was also memorialized in the name of the central park of Guanajay, known for a time as Parque Francisco Valdés Cinta.
⁴In the alien passenger manifest of the SS Havana (arriving at the port of New York from Havana, Cuba, on 23 May, 1917), Carlos’s occupation is listed as “cigar mfg’r.”
⁵”And be it further enacted, 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.” (10 Stat. 604, sec. 2)
⁶The Nationality Act of 1930 subsequently repealed the clauses of section 3 of the Cable Act that expatriated a woman for two years’ residence in her foreign husband’s country of citizenship, but as usual did not apply these new standards retroactively: “[S]uch repeal shall not restore citizenship lost under such section 3 before such repeal” (46 Stat. 854, sec. 1).
⁷Her path to citizenship was slightly smoother than theirs, however. The Cable Act held that “no certificate of arrival shall be required to be filed with her petition if during the continuance of the marital status she shall have resided within the United States” (42 Stat. 1021b, sec. 4). This was subsequently amended by the Nationality Act of 1930 to do away with other requirements:
No declaration of intention … shall be required, and no period of residence within the United States or within the county where the petition is filed shall be required … The petition need not set forth that it is the intention of the petitioner to reside permanently within the United States. The petition may be filed in any court having naturalization jurisdiction, regardless of the residence of the petitioner … If there is attached to the petition, at the time of filing, a certificate from a naturalization examiner stating that the petitioner has appeared before him for examination, the petition may be heard at any time after filing. (46 Stat. 854, sec. 4)
⁸The 1940 U.S. census records Marjorie Cinta as a married woman rather than a widow, but it also claims she has no more than a high-school education. I am inclined to regard both as errors.
⁹The 1940 U.S. census records the entire family—widowed Ellenor (Harry having died in 1933) and Marjorie along with Dorothy and her husband William Bunn—living at the Lefferts Manor property. Marjorie was at that time employed as a secretary for a publishing house making $1400 a year (around $25000 in today’s money, and not a patch on brother-in-law William’s $4500-a-year salary in advertising). After her marriage to Joseph Vetter in 1941 she moved with him to Merrick, N.Y. “[M]y sister and her family live next door,” Vetter wrote in 1953. “We [i.e. the Vetters] have only a patch of land, but we enjoy our garden. My sister and I continue to be great friends …” (“The World Is So Full” 11). Both sisters outlived their husbands and died in Middlebury, Vt., within weeks of each other in 1977, Marjorie on 28 June and Dorothy on 25 August.
Works Cited (Including a Select Bibliography of Marjorie Vetter)
Bagley, Frederick P., Mrs. “Little Stories Concerning the Citizenship of Alien Women.” The Woman Citizen, vol. 4, no. 40, 24 April 1920, pp. 1165-1167.
“Bankruptcy Matters.” New York Herald, 28 March 1906, p. 15.
Bredbenner, Candice Lewis. A Nationality of Her Own: Women, Marriage, and the Law of Citizenship. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
“Bunn-Meyn.” Richmond Hill Record, 7 November 1929, p. 10.
“Business Troubles.” New York Herald, 15 June 1895, p. 13.
“Cargo for Jennifer.” Kirkus Reviews, [1954?], https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/marjorie_vetter/cargo-for-jennifer/. Accessed 23 August 2018.
Edwards, Richard, editor. New York’s Great Industries: Exchange and Commercial Review, Embracing Also Historical and Descriptive Sketch of the City, Its Leading Merchants and Manufacturers. New York: Historical Publishing Co., 1884.
Garson, Eugenia. “Cuban Year.” Review of Cargo for Jennifer by Marjorie Vetter. New York Times, 14 November 1954, p. BRA8.
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival: SS Havana, Passengers Sailing from Havana, May 19th, 1917, Arriving at Port of New York, May 22, 1917. In Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed 23 August 2018.
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival: SS Siboney, Passengers Sailing from Havana, Cuba, April 7th, 1928, Arriving at Port of New York, April 10th, 1928. In Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed 23 August 2018.
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival: SS Ulua, Passengers Sailing from Christobal, Portlimon, & Havana, Cuba, 27th May, 1921, Arriving at Port of New York, NY, 30th May, 1921. In Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed 23 August 2018.
“Miss Meyn’s Engagement to Carlos N. Cinta Announced.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 19 January 1919, p. 5.
New York. State Population Census Schedules, 1925. County: Kings; City: Brooklyn; Assembly District: 21; Election District: 15; Page 8. In Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Accessed 23 August 2018.
“On My Honor: Twenty Stories from The American Girl. Vetter, Marjorie. Longmans, 1951. Item #47999.” Antic Hay Rare Books, 2018, http://www.antichay.com/pages/books/47999/marjorie-vetter/on-my-honor-twenty-stories-from-the-american-girl. Accessed 23 August 2018.
United States, Census Bureau. Census 1940. New York, Kings, New York; Roll: m-t0627-02611; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 24-2462. In Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Accessed 23 August 2018.
United States, Congress, House, Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. Immigration and Citizenship of American-Born Women Married to Aliens. Government Printing Office, 1926.
Vetter, Marjorie [as Valdez-Cinta, Marjorie Meyn]. Petition for Citizenship. In Ancestry.com. New York, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Accessed 23 August 2018.
“Vetter, Marjorie Cinta Meyn (Mrs. Joseph Vetter), editor.” Who’s Who of American Women (and Women of Canada). 4th ed., 1966-67. Chicago: A.N. Marquis Co., 1965. P. 1187.
Select Bibliography of Marjorie Vetter
Vetter, Marjorie. Cargo for Jennifer. New York: Longmans, Green, 1954.
—. Champlain Summer. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1959.
—, editor. Christmas All Year ‘Round: Twenty-five Christmas Stories from the American girl. New York: Abelard Press, 1952.
—, editor. On My Honor: Twenty Stories from the American Girl. New York: Longman’s, Green, 1951.
—, editor. Stories to Live By: A Treasury of Fiction from the American Girl. New York: Platt & Munk, 1960.
—. “‘The World Is So Full of a Number of Things.'” Young Wings, vol. 24, 1953, p. 10-11.
—, and Ruth Baker Bowman, editors. American Girl Favorite Stories. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1950.
—, and Laura Vitray. The Questions Girls Ask. New York: Dutton, 1959.