By Dana Glasscock, undergraduate, University of Oregon
Faculty mentor: Ellen Herman
Emma Wold, who was born in Benton, South Dakota in 1889 of Norwegian-born parents, Jens and Anna Wold. She grew up in Oregon, was an active suffragist, advocate, and organizer throughout her life. One of her most prominent positions included working as legislative secretary of the National Woman's Party (NWP). Before her work in the NWP, Emma Wold worked as a teacher in Junction City and Eugene High Schools after receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon in 1894 and an M.A. in 1897. Wold also earned degrees from the Western College of Oxford, Ohio, and the Washington College of Law. An Honorary degree of Doctor of Law was conferred on Wold by the Western College of Oxford. She worked as a lawyer and educator across the country during her lifetime.
In the years after her graduation from the University of Oregon, Wold served as president of the Oregon Alumni Association in Portland. Wold was also a member of women's groups and activist groups advocating for women's opportunities, the advancement of higher education in the state, and other causes she believed would aid the Pacific Northwest region.
Wold's involvement with the National Woman's Party developed gradually. She participated in speaking tours of the Pacific Northwest to discuss the suffrage movement, served as treasurer of the Women's West Club, and ultimately worked as legislative secretary of the NWP, serving in their D.C. headquarters. Wold helped organize the 1921 convention, including making arrangements for Black feminist representatives to discuss the needs of Black women voting, particularly in the South. This decision carried controversy as it risked alienating groups from the South who disagreed with the inclusion.
After her work with the suffrage movement and the NWP, Emma went on to be active in lobbying, organizing, and publishing on a range of political issues. Her work included campaigns for international disarmament, including collaborating with the NWP to hold events and fundraisers for women's rights and humanitarian causes, including sending a ship full of supplies to Russia for women and children in need after the Russian Revolution, and continuing to work to ensure women's rights as equal citizens through publications and speaking in government forums.
One of Wold's publications, published in 1931, described the work she and others did in order to remove barriers to U.S. women retaining their citizenship in cases when they married foreigners. The efforts were designed to eliminate the automatic loss of citizenship that accompanied women's marriage to foreign nationals and ensure that women as well as men were able to remain US citizens after marriage unless they specifically acted to renounce or remove that citizenship. Wold participated in this process as technical advisor, as appointed by President Hoover, for the nationality discussions at the Conference on International Law held at The Hague in 1930. She also argued that no risk of miscegenation was inherent to revising the citizenship laws because there were already state laws in place that prohibited white women from marrying men of other races, especially those of Asiatic descent. This effort resulted in legislation that protected white women's citizenship regardless of their marriages, removing the majority of loopholes and exceptions that had previously existed, at the cost of racial equality. Wold worked for the Department of Justice from 1933 through 1937 in a special capacity translating European laws.
Wold's efforts in her career allowed her to cross gender boundaries and achieve in ways that would last beyond her lifetime. She spent her later years residing in New York and died on July 21, 1950.
Holmes, Edith Knight. "Women Organizations Show Great Growth in Year 1913," The Sunday Oregonian (Portland), December 25, 1913.
"Expense Accounts Filed: Candidates in Recent Election Submit Statements," The Sunday Oregonian, November 17, 1918.
Cott, Nancy F. "Feminist Politics in the 1920s: The National Women's Party." Journal of American History 711 (June 1984): 43-68.
Wold, Emma. "Women and Nationality: Towards Equality in Citizenship Laws," Pacific Affairs 4:6 (June 1931): 511-15.
Nicolosi, Ann Marie, "'We Do Not Want Our Girls to Marry Foreigners': Gender, Race, and American Citizenship." NWSA Journal, 13: 3 (Autumn 2001): 1-21.
"Miss Emma Wold, Aided Law Studies, Advisor to Hague Conference on International Code in '30 Dies--Suffrage Leader." New York Times, July 22, 1950.