LIMA — In 19th century America, a woman was often more possession than person.
“A single woman under civil law was the ward of her father; and a married woman, the ward of her husband,” John Cable wrote in his book “Decisive Decisions of United States Citizenship. “By common law, man and wife were one; and man was the one.”
By the early 20th century women had gained many of the same rights as men. But in 1922, two years after winning the right to vote, “many discriminations against women still remained in federal laws,” Cable wrote. “Outstanding among these was the law giving the husband predominance in matters of citizenship. The husband had the right to determine not only his own nationality, but also that of his wife. The citizenship of the wife followed that of her husband.”
Cable knew something about citizenship. As a congressman from the Fourth District, he pushed relentlessly for stricter immigration laws and played a key role in ensuring women didn’t lose their citizenship through marriage.
John Levi Cable was born April 15, 1884, in Lima. Cable Road is named after his father, Davis J. Cable, who in 1902 purchased 160 acres where Sherwood Park is now located. The residence became known as Springside Farm. In a 1984 letter, John’s sister Marion Cable McGraw recalled the fragrance of the “tall locust trees” which lined the west side of the road and a nearby apple orchard “beautiful when in bloom.”
Cable attended Lima public schools, Kenyon College in Gambier and George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1909. He married Rhea Watson on Dec. 9, 1910.
In September 1911, Cable became chairman of the county Republican Party executive committee, and quickly became entangled in the split in the party when former President Theodore Roosevelt, unhappy with his increasingly conservative successor, Ohioan William H. Taft, formed the Progressive or Bull Moose party.
Cable, by September 1912, was, according to the Sept. 5, 1912, Lima Daily News, “Republican candidate for Congress and head of the regular Republican executive committee.” As such, the paper reported, Cable “forwarded letters to all members of the committee in which he practically demands the retirement of such members of the organization, if there be any, who are not in full accord and sympathy with the Republican national platform of principles and the Republican ticket from Taft down.”
With the Republican Party split, Democrats led by President Woodrow Wilson swept national and local races. Cable, battling both a Bull Moose candidate and a Democrat, finished a distant second to Democrat J. Henry Goeke in the Fourth Congressional District race and returned to his law practice and his home on Lakewood Avenue overlooking Faurot Park.
In 1916 he returned to politics with the announcement he would challenge Ortha O. Barr the incumbent county prosecuting attorney. On Nov. 18, 1916, the Lima Times-Democrat reported Cable had defeated Barr by a “wide plurality.”
As prosecutor, Cable memorably decided, according to the Feb. 20, 1917, Daily News, “that dead bodies in mummified form are property and that the owner cannot be forced to bury them.” A Lima undertaker named Floyd Whitley, himself dead by 1917, forced that decision when he “discovered the secrets of the ancient Egyptian embalming art” and employed them on a couple unclaimed bodies. “Silent Smith” and “Mose” would become regulars on the county fair circuit before finally being laid to rest.
In June 1918 during World War I, Cable enforced a policy of “work or fight” on vagrants. The Daily News reported Cable “intends to have every non-producer in Allen County either working of his own volition or by compulsion in the state workhouse (at Toledo)… Strange to say, two or three famous idlers have left the city.”
Cable was re-elected in November 1918, again defeating Barr. In February 1919, Cable crafted a bill for the Ohio Legislature giving commissioners the final say on who could use Memorial Hall. The bill, the Daily News said Feb. 12, 1919, was “calculated to bar Eugene V. Debs, convicted socialist, who was scheduled to speak at Memorial Hall several weeks ago …” The bill was appealed but ultimately upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court.
By May 1920, Cable was ready for another run at Congress. This time Cable won, defeating incumbent Democrat Benjamin F. Welty in November 1920 to become at that time only the second Republican to represent the Fourth Congressional District.
Cable went right to work, securing surplus cannons from a California arsenal for Fort Amanda State Park and moving to get a federal court as well as a new post office for Lima.
On July 19, 1922, Cable told the Lima Lions Club he had presented a bill “proposing independent citizenship for the wives of foreign born and for women immigrating to the United States.”
The bill received scant notice from the Lima News, even when it ultimately became law. “The Cable bill, designed to equalize naturalization and citizenship rights of women with those of men, was approved today by President Harding,” the News reported Sept. 22, 1922, in a two-paragraph article. “Under its provisions an American women will not lose her United States citizenship on marriage to an alien, and an alien woman will be required to qualify for naturalization independent of her husband.”
The Cable Bill, however, did not include women who had married men not considered eligible for U.S. citizenship because of their color, an exception aimed at Asians.
Cable was re-elected in November 1922, again defeating Goeke. In June 1923, he began hinting at a run for governor. The Lima News reported June 14, 1924, that Cable was one of eight hopefuls for the Republican nomination. He finished second to last in November 1924 and, in 1926, returned to the practice of law in Lima, although still speaking out on immigration and the proposed repeal of prohibition, which he opposed.
With campaign ads touting his role in gaining equal citizenship for women — “The Cable Act Goes Farther Than the Nineteenth Amendment (right to vote)” — able recaptured the Fourth District seat in November 1928, defeating Democrat William Klinger by more than 14,000 votes.
In June 1929, Cable came out in defense of Ruth Bryan Owen, the daughter of William Jennings Bryan. Owen, a Democrat, had won election as Florida and was the South’s first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican defeated by Owen challenged the result, claiming Owen, who was the widow of a British citizen and had regained her U.S. citizenship under the Cable Act, had not done so soon enough to be eligible to run for Congress. The courts ruled for Owen.
Writing in Atlantic Monthly in April 1930, Cable said of Owen: “She did not pledge allegiance to a foreign state, nor did she renounce allegiance to the United States, under whose flag she was born, but, as she herself states, ‘I became, by reason of my marriage to Major (Reginald) Owen, involuntarily and automatically a British subject.”
In the same article, responding to a criticism by reformer and women’s suffrage leader Jane Addams of the Asian exclusion in the 1922 law, Cable wrote: “Perhaps Miss Addams is right. At any rate, I am expecting to submit to Congress the question of repealing that portion of the act.”
Cable set about strengthening the 1922 law. “All American women who marry foreigners would be permitted to retain their American citizenship under the terms of the bill, a right that is now granted only to men,” the News wrote April 20, 1930.
With prodding by the National Woman’s Party, the League of Women Voters, the Business and Professional Women’s League, the American Association of University Women and a dozen others, the bill passed in July 1930.
Cable was hailed by women’s groups. The National Woman’s Party dedicated the November 1930 issue of its magazine to him. Owen called Cable “a statesman, a man honestly devoted to our and the country’s interests — discerning, sensible, serious and safe.”
In November 1930, Cable was re-elected by a wide margin but lost a re-election bid in November 1932. He would go on to serve as a Republican presidential elector and as a member of the Selective Service Board. He died in 1971 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.