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Beatrice McKenzie

Beatrice McKenzie, Associate Professor and Chair, History Department

Office phone: 608 363-2197


General Interests: Legal history; citizenship and nationality; birthright citizenship policy; racialized citizenship; gender and diplomacy.


PhD, United States History, 2006, University of Oregon; MA, U.S. Foreign Policy, International Economics, 1988, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; BA, Social Sciences, 1982, Blackburn College.

I am particularly interested in recognizing individual agency within societal structures in U.S. history. My dissertation project examined how legal structures shaped categories of American citizens between 1868 and 1934. I looked at the ways individuals challenged U.S. birthright citizenship policy, which sought to create distinct categories of citizens based on the child or parent’s race and/or gender.

In my second project I have examined the efforts of particular women in diplomatic work in 20th century U.S. history. In 1934, for example, women associated with the National Woman’s Party leveraged their power at a Western Hemisphere conference to achieve an important birthright citizenship reform for American women. Meanwhile, opportunities for women in the official United States Foreign Service agency were, similar to the case of black men, limited to two token positions. Even after women were accepted as officers, they filled low-level jobs so that the best and most promising positions were reserved for white men. My examination of changes in these structures includes an analysis of the experiences of women who have challenged their roles, including Alison Palmer who, along with several other women, brought a class action lawsuit against the State Department in 1975 that was only resolved in 2010.     

My teaching at Beloit College incorporates both projects. I teach an introductory course on Citizenship in United States History that is highly theoretical but is based on analysis of citizenship documents (such as the U.S. Constitution, State Constitutions, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Supreme Court cases) that determined status for groups of claimants. The class also involves a service-learning element in the local community: my undergraduate students teach a preparatory course for the naturalization exam to local legal permanent residents.

I also teach advanced seminars on the History of U.S. Immigration and Refugee policy, and on the History of U.S.-Cuba Relations since 1898. My other courses include “Nationalism and Internationalism: U.S. History 1861-1945,” “U.S. History, 1945-present,” “Gender and Diplomacy,” and “Industrial History of Beloit.”

Before I joined the history faculty at Beloit College, I studied at the University of Oregon. My studies were informed by my earlier careers as a U.S. diplomat in embassies in Cape Verde, Uganda, and Hong Kong, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. I find students at Beloit particularly open-minded and eager to learn.

Selected Professional Accomplishments:


“To Know a Citizen: Birthright Citizenship Documents Regimes in U.S. History,” chapter in Citizenship in Question: Evidentiary Birthright and Statelessness (forthcoming, Duke University Press), edited by Jacqueline Stevens and Benjamin Lawrance.

 “Alison Palmer’s Fight for Sex and Gender Equity in the 20th century United States Foreign Service,” chapter in Gender and Diplomacy: Theory and Practice (forthcoming), edited by Jennifer Cassidy.

 “The Problem of Women in the Department: Sex and Gender Discrimination in the 1960s Foreign Diplomatic Service,” European Journal of American Studies (2015).

“Peggy Pascoe: Mentor.”  Journal of Women’s History (2011).

“The Power of International Positioning: the National Woman’s  Party, International Law, and Diplomacy, 1928-1934,” Gender & History (2011).


Underkoffler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, Beloit College. 2014.

Leah Kirker Teaching Prize, University of Oregon History Department. 2004.

Public Presentations:

“The Problem of Women in the Department:  Sex and Gender Discrimination in the 1960s United States Foreign Diplomatic Service,” at Women in the Americas Conference, Aix en Provence, France. 2013.

“’You can’t do political work…you have to have a man do that:’ Constance Harvey’s Foreign Service Career, 1944-1964,” Women’s History Network, Cardiff, Wales. 2012.

Panelist in Roundtable: “Honoring the Life and Work of Peggy Pascoe,” Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association. 2011.

“Gender and Consular Work: the Life and Diplomatic Career of Constance Ray Harvey,” Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). 2011.

“Gender and the Transmission of U.S. Citizenship in Vietnam, 1964-1976,” Women & Gender Historians of the Midwest. 2010.

“Foreign Policy and International Law in the Service of U.S. Women’s Nationality Rights, 1920-1934,” Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. 2008.  

“Birthright Citizenship Law and the U.S. Federal District Court of Puerto Rico, 1899-1917,” Organization of American Historians. 2007.

“Race and National Boundaries:  United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898),” American Historical Association. 2006.