Ernestine Rose

American feminist activist

Ernestine Louise Rose (13 January 18104 August 1892) was an atheist feminist, Individualist Feminist, and abolitionist. She was one of the major intellectual forces behind the women's rights movement in nineteenth-century America.

Ernestine Rose in 1881


  • "What rights have women? …(they are) punished for breaking laws which they have no voice in making. All avenues to enterprise and honors are closed against them. If poor, they must drudge for a mere pittance— if of the wealthy classes, they must be dressed dolls of fashion — parlor puppets…"
    • Speech At the Social Reform Convention, Boston, 1844 (Kolmerten, p. 49)
  • "…There is 10 times more in the world than would maintain all in yet unknown luxury. Yet how much misery there is in our midst; not because there is not enough, but owing to the misdirection of it."
    • Speech At a convention organized by Ernestine and William Rose in honor of a visit to New York by Robert Owen in 1845. ("Boston Investigator," May 14, 1845)
  • "We have heard a great deal of our Pilgrim Fathers…but who has heard of the Pilgrim Mothers? Did they not endure as many perils, encounter as many hardships, and do as much to form and fashion the institutions of New England as the Pilgrim Fathers? And were not their trials, and is not their glory equally great? Yet they are hardly remembered."
    • Speech at the 1850 National Woman's Rights Convention, Worcester, Massachusetts (Suhl, p. 112)
  • "Who that has human blood flowing in his veins, who that ever felt the warm gush of affection thrill his being, can hesitate whether to throw his weight into the balance of life and freedom, or that of chains, oppression or death? him who fears only your opposition...silence is consent. And silence where life and liberty is at stake, where by a timely protest we could stay the destroyer's hand, and do not do so, is as criminal as giving actual aid to the oppressor, for it answers his purpose..."
  • I suppose you all grant that woman is a human being. If she has a right to life she has a right to earn a support for that life. If a human being, she has a right to have her powers and faculties as a human being developed. If developed, she has a right to exercise them.
    • At a New York State convention, Rochester, N.Y. (1853), quoted in Kolmerten, Carol A., The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999, p. 129-130.
  • “For here lies the corner stone of all the injustices done woman, the wrong idea from which all other wrongs proceed. She is not acknowledged as mistress of herself. For her cradle to her grave she is another's. We do indeed need and demand the other rights of which I have spoken, but let us first obtain ourselves.”
    • Speech at the National Woman's Rights Convention, Cleveland, Ohio. 1853.
  • "Human rights include the rights of all, not only man, but woman, not only white but black; wherever there is a being called human, his rights are as full and expressive as his existence, and ought to be without limits or distinction of sex, country, or color…and only ignorance, superstition, and tyranny — both the basis and the influence of the Bible - deprive him of it."
    • Speech at Hartford Bible Convention, Hartford, Conn., 1853
  • I am perfectly willing, nay, desirous, that the sentiments and principles I advocate should be known and criticized by the public; but I am not willing to have imputed to me sentiments which do not belong to me, and, believing that you do not willfully misrepresent me, take the liberty to correct some errors in regard to myself, in the account of the Rutland Convention, in your paper of this morning.
    • letter to the editor, The New York Times (1858). Included in Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine L. Rose by Paula Doress-Worters (2008)
  • "I ask for a law of Divorce…to prevent the crimes and immoralities now practiced…too often under the name of marriage…I believe in true marriages, and therefore I ask for a law to free men and women from false ones."
    • Speech At the Tenth National Woman's Rights Convention, Cooper Institute, New York, 1860. ("History of Woman Suffrage," Vol.1, p. 731)
  • Not long after we arrived here, nearly 28 years ago, we saw an advertisement for a meeting at Tammany Hall to discuss Robert Owen's Community principles. Being interested in the subject we attended the meeting, but to our surprise, and I must say regret, the various speakers, instead of debating Owen's Community, debated Owen. I told them that, according to the notice, principles and not persons were to be discussed. In every controversy it is well to keep the two distinct.
    • letter to the editor of The Boston Investigator (1864), included in Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine L. Rose. Excerpt here
  • "…The nature of the Jew is governed by the same laws as human nature in general…In England, France, Germany and in the rest of Europe (except Spain), in spite of the barbarous treatment and deadly persecution they suffered, they have lived and spread and outlived much of the poisonous rancor and prejudice against them, and Europe has been none the worse on their account. Of course, where they are still under the Christian lash, as in Rome, where for the glory of God, their children even are stolen from them, self-preservation forces them to be narrow and exclusive. In other countries more civilized and just, they are so too; they progress just as fast as the world they live in will permit them.
    • letter to the editor of The Boston Investigator (1864)
  • human nature (Jewish included) cannot remain tied down to all eternity.
    • letter to the editor of The Boston Investigator (1864)
  • Then let us, as Infidels, while promoting liberty and spreading useful knowledge, to prevent any sect from getting power, not add to the prejudice already existing towards the Jews, or any other sect.
    • letter to the editor of The Boston Investigator (1864)
  • We need no other; but we must, reassert in 1876 what 1776 so gloriously proclaimed and call upon the law-makers and the law-breakers to carry that declaration to its logical consistency by giving woman the right of representation in the government which she helps to maintain; a voice in the laws by which she is governed, and all the rights and privileges society can bestow, the same as to man, or disprove its validity. We need no other declaration. All we ask is to have the laws based on the same foundation upon which that declaration rests, viz.: upon equal justice, and not upon sex. Whenever the rights of man are claimed, moral consistency points to the equal rights of woman.
    • July 4, 1876 LETTER TO SUSAN B. ANTHONY, included in Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine L. Rose by Paula Doress-Worters (2008)
  • I did not intend to publish anything about myself, for I had no other ambition except to work for the cause of humanity, irrespective of sex, sect, country, or color
    • January 9, 1877 LETTER TO SUSAN B. ANTHONY
  • thirty or forty years ago, the press was not sufficiently educated in the rights of women, even to notice, much less to report speeches as it does now
    • January 9, 1877 LETTER TO SUSAN B. ANTHONY
  • All that I can tell you is, that I used my humble powers to the uttermost, and raised my voice in behalf of Human Rights in general, and the elevation and Rights of Woman in particular, nearly all my life.
    • January 9, 1877 LETTER TO SUSAN B. ANTHONY
  • Say to the friends. Go on, go on, halt not and rest not. Remember that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" and of right. Much has been achieved; but the main, the vital thing, has yet to come. The suffrage is the magic key to the statute-the insignia of citizenship in a republic.
  • the suffrage is not only a badge of citizenship but a mental and moral elevator that prepares the possessor of it to self-respect and dignity and prepares him for greater usefulness and higher and nobler aims in the progress of Humanity.

Speech (August 4, 1853)


At the Anniversary of West Indian Emancipation

  • We have been told, to-day, that it was a woman that agitated Great Britain to its very centre, before emancipation could be effected in her colonies. Woman must go hand in hand with man in every great and noble cause, if success would be insured.
  • were only that great, noble truth of the Declaration of Independence carried out, as it ought to be, there would be no need of our meeting here to-day. Then indeed might we all rejoice when the Fourth of July arrives.
  • in comparison to the liberation of 800,000 slaves, the Declaration of Independence falls into utter insignificance.
  • the great act of emancipation of 800,000 human beings has shown to the world that the African race are not only capable of taking care of themselves, but are capable of enjoying peacefully as much liberty and as much freedom as the white men. Thus it has done far more towards the cause of freedom — towards emancipation from all kinds of slavery — than the Declaration of Independence did. For in spite of that Declaration — in sadness and sorrow do I say it — the United States of America are guilty of outrage and recreancy to their own principles in retaining slavery; while Great Britain, without that Declaration, having yet a great deal of oppression and tyranny in her midst, has shown a noble example to the world in emancipating all her chattel slaves.
  • It is utterly impossible for us, as finite beings, with the utmost stretch of the imagination, to conceive the depth and immensity of the horrors of slavery.
  • Not to be your own, bodily, mentally, or morally — that is to be a slave... Slavery is, not to belong to yourself — to be robbed of yourself. There is nothing that I so much abhor as that single thing — to be robbed of one’s self. We are our own legitimate masters. Nature has not created masters and slaves; nature has created man free as the air of heaven. The black man and the white man are equally the children of nature. The same mother earth has created us all; the same life pervades all; the same spirit ought to animate all. Slavery deprives us of ourselves.
  • I go for emancipation of all kinds — white and black, man and woman. Humanity’s children are, in my estimation, all one and the same family, inheriting the same earth; therefore there should be no slaves of any kind among them. There are ties that bind man to man far stronger than the ties of nation — than the political and commercial ties — an even stronger than the ties of relationship; and these are the ties of humanity. Humanity, the great mother of all, has thrown around us ties, sympathies and feelings which are more endearing, more effectual, and more noble, than any other than have ever bound man to man.
  • A gentleman once asked me in the South, what I thought, on the whole, of South Carolina. I told him: ”I am sorry to say that you are a century, at least, behind in the means of civilization.” He wanted to know why I thought so. I said: “The only civilization you have exists among your slaves: for if industry and the mechanical arts are the great criterion of civilization (and I believe they are), then certainly the slaves are the only civilized ones among you, because they do all the work.”
  • Our friend William Lloyd Garrison has repeated to us the many blessings resulting from upright actions. Yes, every act brings its own reward or its own punishment. Every good act produces its own corresponding reward, and every bad act its corresponding punishment. How, then, must not only the South but the North be punished in consequence of that great, immeasurable wrong of Slavery? Oh, the shame and outrage that, for one single moment, that great blot should be suffered to remain on the otherwise beautiful escutcheon of this republic! But permit me to say that the slaves of the South are not the only people that are in bondage. All women are excluded from the enjoyment of that liberty which your Declaration of Independence asserts to be the inalienable right of all. The same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that pertains to man, pertains to woman also. For what is life without liberty? Which of you here before me would not willingly risk his or her life, if in danger of being made a slave? Emancipation from every kind of bondage is my principle. I go for the recognition of human rights, without distinction of sect, party, sex, or color.

"A Defence of Atheism" (1861)

It was a great mistake to say that God made man in his image.
Astronomy tells us of the wonders of the Solar System—the eternally revolving planets, the ra­pidity and certainty of their motions, the distance from planet to planet, from star to star.
The Universe of Matter gives us no record of his existence.
  • Natural history gives us a knowledge of the animal kingdom in general; the different organ­isms, structures, and powers of the various species. Physiology teaches the nature of man, the laws that govern his being, the functions of the vital organs, and the conditions upon which alone health and life depend. Phrenology treats of the laws of mind, the different portions of the brain, the temperaments, the organs, how to develop some and repress others to produce a well balanced and healthy condition. But in the whole animal econ­omy—though the brain is considered to be a "mi­crocosm," in which may be traced a resemblance or relationship with everything in Nature—not a spot can be found to indicate the existence of a God.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 4
  • Mathematics lays the foundation of all the ex­act sciences. It teaches the art of combining num­bers, of calculating and measuring distances, how to solve problems, to weigh mountains, to fathom the depths of the ocean; but gives no directions how to ascertain the existence of a God.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 4
  • Astronomy tells us of the wonders of the Solar System—the eternally revolving planets, the ra­pidity and certainty of their motions, the distance from planet to planet, from star to star. It pre­dicts with astonishing and marvellous precision the phenomena of eclipses, the visibility upon our Earth of comets, and proves the immutable law of gravitation, but is entirely silent on the exist­ence of a God.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 5
  • The Universe of Matter gives us no record of his existence. Where next shall we search? En­ter the Universe of Mind, read the millions of volumes written on the subject, and in all the speculations, the assertions, the assumptions, the theories, and the creeds, you can only find Man stamped in an indelible impress his own mind on every page. In describing his God, he delineated his own character: the picture he drew represents in living and ineffaceable colors the epoch of his existence—the period he lived in.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 5
  • It was a great mistake to say that God made man in his image. Man, in all ages, made his God in his own image; and we find that just in accordance with his civilization, his knowledge, his experience, his taste, his refinement, his sense of right, of justice, of freedom, and humanity,—so has he made his God. But whether coarse or refined; cruel and vindictive, or kind and generous; an implacable tyrant, or a gentle and loving fa­ther;—it still was the emanation of his own mind—the picture of himself.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 6
  • But the Bible, we are told, reveals this great mystery. Where Nature is dumb, and Man ignorant, Revelation speaks in the authoritative voice of prophecy.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 7
  • The Universe is one vast chemical laboratory, in constant operation, by her internal forces. The laws or principles of attraction, cohesion, and re­pulsion, produce in never-ending succession the phenomena of composition, decomposition, and recomposition. The how, we are too ignorant to understand, too modest to presume, and too honest to profess. Had man been a patient and im­partial inquirer, and not with childish presump­tion attributed everything he could not under­stand, to supernatural causes, given names to hide his ignorance, but observed the operations of Na­ture, he would undoubtedly have known more, been wiser, and happier.
    • 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 15
  • Slavery being the cause of the war, we must look to its utter extinction for the remedy
  • Abraham Lincoln has issued a Proclamation. He has emancipated all the slaves of the rebel States with his pen, but that is all. To set them really and thoroughly free, we will have to use some other instrument than the pen. The slave is not emancipated; he is not free.
  • I speak for myself. I do not wish any one else to be responsible for my opinions. I am loyal only to justice and humanity. Let the Administration give evidence that they too are for justice to all, without exception, without distinction, and I, for one, had I ten thousand lives, would gladly lay them down to secure this boon of freedom to humanity. But without this certainty, I am not unconditionally loyal to the Administration. We women need not be, for the law has never yet recognized us. Then I say to Abraham Lincoln, “Give us security for the future, for really when I look at the past, without a guarantee, I can hardly trust you.” And then I would say to him, “Let nothing stand in your way; let no man obstruct your path.”
  • I say to Abraham Lincoln, if these generals are good for anything, if they are fit to take the lead, put them at the head of armies, and let them go South and free the slaves you have announced free. If they are good for nothing, dispose of them as of anything else that is useless.
  • I ask the President why McClellan was kept in the army so long after it was known — for there never was a time when anything else was known—that he was both incapable and unwilling to do anything?
  • If the Cabinet is in the way of freedom, dispose of the Cabinet — some of them, at least. The magnitude of this war has never yet been fully felt or acknowledged by the Cabinet. The man at its head — I mean Seward — has hardly yet woke up to the reality that we have a war. He was going to crush the rebellion in sixty days. It was a mere bagatelle! Why, he could do it after dinner, any day, as easy as taking a bottle of wine! If Seward is in the way of crushing the rebellion and establishing freedom, dispose of him.
  • I am not unconditionally loyal, until we know to what principle we are to be loyal. Promise justice and freedom, and all the rest will follow.
  • Human freedom and true democracy are identical.
  • justice, like charity, must begin at home.
  • What has brought on this war? Slavery, undoubtedly. Slavery was the primary cause of it. But the great secondary cause was the fact that the North, for the sake of the Union, has constantly compromised. Every demand that the South made of the North was acceded to, until the South came really to believe that they were the natural and legitimate masters, not only of the slaves, but of the North too.
  • A true Union is based upon principles of mutual interest, of mutual respect and reciprocity, none of which ever existed between the North and South. They based their institutions on slavery; the North on freedom.
  • Slavery and freedom can not exist together. Seward proclaimed a truism, but he did not appreciate its import.
  • A small republic, a small nation, based upon the eternal principle of freedom, is great and powerful. A large empire based upon slavery, is weak and without foundation. The moment the light of freedom shines upon it, it discloses its defects, and unmasks its hideous deformities. As I said before, I would rather have a small republic without the taint and without the stain of slavery in it, than to have the South brought back by compromise. To avert such calamity, we must work. And our work must mainly be to watch and criticise and urge the Administration to do its whole duty to freedom and humanity.

Address to the First Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association (May 9, 1867)

  • After all, we come down to the root of all evil—to money...Give us one million of dollars, and we will have the elective franchise at the very next session of our Legislature. (Laughter and applause.) But as we have not got a million of dollars, we want a million of voices. There are always two ways of obtaining an object. If we had had the money, we could have bought the Legislature and the elective franchise long before now. But as we have not, we must create a public opinion, and for that we must have voices.
  • I have always thought I was convinced not only of the necessity but of the great importance of obtaining the elective franchise for woman; but recently I have become convinced that I never felt sufficiently that importance until now. Just read your public papers and see how our Senators and our members of the House are running round through the Southern States to hold meetings, and to deliver public addresses. To whom? To the freedmen. And why now, and why not ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago? Why do they get up meetings for the colored men, and call them fellow-men, brothers, and gentlemen? Because the freedman has that talisman in his hands which the politician is looking after. Don't you perceive, then, the importance of the elective franchise? Perhaps when we have the elective franchise in our hands, these great senators will condescend to inform us too of the importance of obtaining our rights.
  • If we once have the elective franchise, upon the first indication that any man will endeavor to disturb a woman in her duty at the polls, Congress will enact another Freedman's Bureau—I beg pardon, a Freedwoman's Bureau—to protect women against men, and to guard the purity of the ballot-box at the same time.
  • Men can pray in secret, but must vote in public. (Applause.) Hence the ballot, of the two, ought to be the most respected; and it would be if women were once there; but it never will be until they are there.
  • We have been told this evening that it is not good for man to be alone. No; if it was not well for him to be alone in the garden of Eden, it surely cannot be well for him to be alone at the ballot-box.
  • we have asked Congress, in the reconstruction of the Republic, to place it upon a sound foundation.
  • A wrong always operates against itself, and falls back on the wrong-doer. We have proclaimed to the world universal suffrage; but it is universal suffrage with a vengeance attached to it—universal suffrage excluding the negro and the woman, who are by far the largest majority in this country. It is not the majority that rules here, but the minority. White men are in the minority in this nation. White women, black men, and black women con.pose the large majority of the nation. Yet, in spite of this fact, in spite of common sense, in spite of justice, while our members of Congress can prate so long about justice, and human rights, and the rights of the negro, they have not the moral courage to say anything for the rights of woman.
  • In proportion to power is responsibility.
  • When Chase, Summer, Stevens, and Wilson talk to the negro of the importance of having the franchise, and stop short of giving the franchise to woman, I proclaim them hypocrites—I proclaim them politicians. They speak so to the newly freed slave, because he has already the ballot in his hands, and they want him to vote for them. We have not that right, and hence they do not speak one word in favor of our attaining the elective franchise.
  • There are a great many objections urged against the enfranchisement of women; and one that I have recently heard is that women would not go to war. Perhaps, if women had the franchise, men would not need to go to war neither. (Applause.) And this is one great reason why I demand the franchise. War is only a relic of the old barbarisms. So long as woman is deprived of her right, man is only next door to a barbarian. If he were not, he never would go to war.
  • The ballot is a teacher. Henry Ward Beecher, in a discourse on the subject last winter, said, in regard to woman's franchise, that the ballot is a teacher. I am glad to be able to agree with a minister, which is not often the case. Yes, it is a teacher. Yet, when a man alone has the ballot, it fails to be his teacher. It has not taught him the great lesson that the ballot is useless, that it becomes perverted and corrupt, when woman is kept from it.
  • For my part, I never knew a social evil to be removed by force of law...The prevention of that social evil must commence in the nursery. If you will bring up woman as you ought to bring up men—not as you do bring up men—acknowledging her right to live the same as men, giving her the same advantages and the same rights that men have, there will be no need to enact laws against a "social evil."
  • I say to the Legislature that, if you enact laws against social evils, whatever those laws are, let them be alike for man and for woman.
  • Let woman have the franchise; let all the avenues of society be thrown open before her, according to her powers and her capacities, and there will be no need to talk about social evils. Depend upon it that she will not only take care of herself, but will help to take care of man, which is more than he has ever done for himself.

Quotes about Ernestine Rose

  • At length in the anguish of my soul, I said, Mrs. Rose, there is not one in the Reform ranks, whom you think true, not one but whom panders to the popular feeling. She answered, I can't help it. I take them by the words of their own mouths. I trust all until their words or acts declare them false to truth and right and, continued she, no one can tell the hours of anguish I have suffered, as one after another I have seen, those whom I had trusted, betray falsity of motive as I have been compelled to place one after another on the list of panderers to public favor. Said I, do you know, Mrs. Rose, that I can but feel that you place me too on that list. Said she, I will tell you when I see you untrue. A silence ensued. While I copied the verse from the hymn sung in Church this A.M., and subscribed it Susan B. Anthony, for her dear friend Ernestine L. Rose, as I handed it to her, I observed tears in her eyes. Said I, Mrs. Rose, have I been wicked and hurt your feelings? She answered, no, but I expect never to be understood while I live. Her anguish was extreme. I too wept, for it filled soul with anguish to see one so noble, so true (even though I felt I could not comprehend her) so bowed down, so overcome with deep swelling emotions. At length she said, no one knows how I have suffered from not being understood. [I said] I know you must suffer and heaven forbid that I should add a feather's weight to your burdens. Mrs. Rose is not appreciated, nor cannot be by this age. She is too much in advance of the extreme ultraists even, to be understood by them. Almost every reformer feels that the odium of his own ultraisms is as much as he is able to bear and therefore shrinks from being identified with one in whose view their ultraism is sheer conservatism. This fact has been most plainly brought home to me. Every[one] says, "I am ultra enough, the mercy knows; I don't want to seem any more so by identifying myself with one whose every sentiment is so shocking to the public mind."...
  • Rose captivated her audiences with the passion and audacity of her women's rights reform message, her freethought ideas, and her utter lack of self-consciousness. As she walked about the platform, her clear brown eyes conveyed sincerity of feeling, while her orator's gestures added emphasis and fervor to her eloquent arguments. Her caustic humor provided a defense against hecklers, and served to entertain and win over her audiences. Simply appearing before mixed audiences flouted the accepted customs of her adopted land, where the public platform was still off-limits to women. But Rose was a visually striking figure as well. Unlike most married women of her day, she did not cover her head in a gesture of modesty or piety, and her black curls cascaded over her shoulders. Rose dressed with European sophistication and simplicity, in black or gray with white lace at her throat and cuffs and ever-present leather gloves. To accentuate the simplicity of her outfit, she wore a single piece of jewelry, either a cameo pin or a watch on a chain…Rose's colleagues and protégés became better known than she, but her vision continued to inspire them, and at the dawn of the twenty-first century, she inspires us still.
  • Rose has been called the translator of the women's rights movement because of her knowledge of French, German, and Polish
  • suffragists in most of the first wave, certainly its 19th century years, were overwhelmingly Protestant, as was the country. The one really important Jewish-born woman of note in the early years, about whom I have written, was Ernestine Rose, born Esther Potowski in Russian Poland in 1810. After a rebellion from her rabbi father, she moved to London, where she married William Rose and became a socialist feminist. The couple moved to New York in 1836, where now Ernestine Rose became the leading woman in the campaign to grant married women basic economic rights in the State of New York. From this position, she became a major influence on Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Rose considered herself a “freethinker” but she was definitely not a Protestant and her attitudes remained influenced by her Jewish background: Talmudic approach to texts, not approaching marriage as a divine sacrament…
  • Feminist writers, not trained historians, were the first to undertake a systematic attempt to approach the problem of women's role in American life and history. This took the form of feminist tracts, theoretical approaches, and compilations of woman's "contributions." The early compilers attacked the subject with a missionary zeal designed, above all, to right wrong. Their tendency was to praise anything women had done as a "contribution" and to include any women who had gained the slightest public attention in their numerous lists. Still, much positive work was done in simply recounting the history of the woman's rights movement and some of its forerunners and in discussing some of the women whose pioneering struggles opened opportunities to others. Feminist writers were hampered by a two-fold bias. First, they shared the middle-class, nativist, moralistic approach of the Progressives and tended to censure out of existence anyone who did not fit into this pattern. Thus we find that women like Frances Wright and Ernestine Rose received little attention because they were considered too radical. "Premature feminists" such as the Grimké sisters, Maria Weston Chapman, and Lydia Maria Child are barely mentioned.
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)

Tribute by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (January 1893)


At the 25th Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Anthologized in Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine L. Rose, Early Women's Rights Leader (2008)

  • Mlle. Siismund Potoski [sic], best known to us as Ernestine L. Rose, was born in Poland and belonged to a Jewish family. She was sincere in her faith and conscientious in the observance of all its ceremonies. She was a faithful student of the Scriptures and of the ritual and dogmas of her faith until the persecutions of the Jews in Poland and Russia led her to investigate the theologies of both Jews and Christians and to reject alike their creeds and ceremonies. This involved much suffering all her life persecuted by Christians as well as those of her own faith. She was a liberal alike in religion and government and sympathized with France in her struggle for a Republic and rejoiced in its establishment in the United States. Traveling extensively on the continent, by her eloquent appeals to those in authority she relieved many cases of injustice and oppression, bringing peace and happiness to many an humble home...During the years of 1855 to 1860 Mrs. Rose traveled with Miss Anthony all over the State of New York, speaking to large audiences in fifty different counties. The result of their united labors was the passage of a bill securing to married women the right to their ways and guardianship of their children. For half a century, as a public speaker, her eloquent voice was heard on both continents, she having taken an active part in all the great progressive movements of our day, associated with the most influential classes of reformers in both Europe and America. All through those eventual years, Mrs. Rose fought a double battle, not only for the political rights of her sex, but for their religious rights as individual souls, to do their own thinking and believing, How much of the freedom we now enjoy may be due to this noble Polish woman cannot be estimated, for moral influences are too subtle for measurement. They who sat with her in bygone days on the platform will remember her matchless powers as a speaker, and how safe we all felt when she had the floor that neither in manner, sentiment, argument, nor repartee would she in any way compromise the dignity of the occasion. She had the advantage of rare grace and beauty, which in a measure heightened the effect of all she said. She had a rich musical voice and a ready flow of choice language. In style she was clear, logical, and at times impassioned. I visited her during her last sad days in London, after the death of her husband, when she was stricken with the disease that terminated her life. She talked with deep feeling of her eventful life and with a lively interest in what was still passing, familiar as she was with every step of progress in our movement, both in England and America. "I am happy," she said at parting, "that I have helped to usher in the dawn of a new day for woman..." Of death and the future life she said nothing. I had often heard her say in former days that of the future [life after death] she knew nothing, and seldom thought of that subject, as she had always found enough in this life to occupy her time and thoughts. She had no fears of death and passed away calmly, sustained in her last days by the same philosophy that inspired her noble, unselfish life.

Eulogy by George Jacob Holyoke (August 8, 1892)


Anthologized in Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine L. Rose, Early Women's Rights Leader (2008)

  • Mrs. Rose was the first woman who presented herself on a public platform in America as a speaker against Negro slavery. It was perilous in a man to do it when she did it. She even went into the slave states pleading for [N]egro freedom. She was threatened with tar and feathers. She answered that "for the sake of humanity she would risk the tar." More than comely in features which had the dignity of contour, Mrs. Rose had a voice which at once arrested attention by its strength and melody. She spoke with easy accuracy and with eloquence and reason. Robert Owen, on his visits to America, paid her great respect. From being an opponent she became the most influential advocate of his views in that country. There was genius in her sympathy with social improvement. In the words of a recent poetess, Mrs. Rose could say: -"I said it in the meadow path,/I said it on the mountain stairs -/The best things any mortal hath/Are those which every mortal shares." Her German education gave her intellectual intrepidity. In her youth her dark hair and gleaming eyes showed she had the fire of Judith in her; and her passion was to see women possess civil and social equality, and to inspire women and men with self-helping sense, not taking religion, politics, or social ideas secondhand from their "pastors and masters" but choosing principles of belief, government, and conduct for themselves. Like her great co-worker in the anti-slavery movement, Lucretia Mott, Mrs. Rose took truth for authority, not authority for truth. After forty years of agitation-the period of her public activity-her end was painless peace. In her closing days she would often say, "It is no longer necessary for me to live. I can do nothing now. But I have lived." The slave she had helped to free from bondage of ownership, and the minds she had set free from the bondage of authority, were the glad and proud remembrance of her last days. If any around her grave shall provide memories of good done to brighten the end of life, it will be equally well with them and better for all who have passed within their influence.

Ellen Carol DuBois Forward to Mistress of Herself (2008)

  • There are many great women in the early history of the American women's rights movement, but not all continue to invite a kind of personal connection over history and across time. Ernestine L. Rose is one of these few. Paula Doress-Worters characterizes Rose as ahead of her time, meaning that her words, ideas, and life speak to us in modern times, even more perhaps than to her own contemporaries. Indeed, Rose saw the position of her sex from an angle different from other thoughtful women of her own time. Her speeches and writings, her life and experiences, offer oblique yet illuminating insights into the past and on the present.
  • Rose and Margaret Fuller are similarly intriguing historical figures. Like Fuller, Rose's life, combined with her insights and writings, remain so inviting and multifaceted that each generation of biographers, feminists, and general readers has found something unique, some new lesson about a woman's effort to make sense of, live through, dissent from, and change history. Ernestine Rose offers the feminist historian a compelling combination of an heroic, path-breaking life dedicated to the well-being of all humanity, made palpable through an action-packed life of social commitment.
  • The breadth of Rose's vision for radical social change is important to emphasize. She believed in women's rights and she believed in other causes as well. Popular and scholarly judgment too often miscasts feminism as an exclusive political tradition, in which dedication to women's advancement crowds out all other aspects of social change, inevitably becoming a "single-issue movement." This flies in the face of considerable evidence from many historical periods, none more insistently than the antebellum years in which the American women's rights movement came into being. Despite an increasing concern with women's rights, Rose neither turned away from her determination to overcome religious superstitions, abolish economic inequality, and banish human slavery; nor did she allow her determination to advance women's equality to be set aside in favor of these other commitments.
  • Even in alternative communities dedicated to radical social change, Rose often found herself on the margins. Within the history of the American women's rights movement, Rose is an especially interesting figure precisely because she differed from her sister activists along several crucial dimensions. Her presence alone forbids us from describing this early movement as exclusively "white middle class." She was an immigrant among the native born and of Jewish origins in a society in which even the religious dissidents worked from thoroughly Protestant premises. She and her husband earned their living through their own labors. Among other women who linked their efforts to the national promise of American democracy, she was an internationalist. She was a socialist, by virtue of her knowledge of British Owenite communitarianism. Each of these dimensions means that once we insist on Rose's proper place among the leaders of American feminism's first generation, our sense of who and what fueled the earliest phases of that movement must be considerably enlarged.
  • I am particularly interested in Rose's Jewish origins. To point to Rose's Jewishness needs some clarification, in light of her strenuous repudiation of all religious superstition. In what ways then is there any point to linking this self-declared materialist and atheist to a religious tradition that she herself had abandoned, at great personal cost? Although Rose was a freethinker, she was never a Christian, despite every sort of pressure to become one. "I have not abandoned the trunk in order to attach myself to the branches," was how she explained it. By this, she meant, "If my reason prevents me from being Jewish, it cannot allow me to become Christian." Conversion, and only conversion, could have removed the taint of Jewishness under which she labored and this she would not do. Her Jewishness was thus not something from which, ultimately, she was willing to remove herself.
  • Rose remembered Tom Paine, who was in danger of being forgotten for his radical hopes for the American Revolution. In a similar spirit, we remember Rose, in honor of those aspects of her vision of a free womanhood that have not yet been realized and that continue to inspire. To remember our ancestors is an act on our own behalf as well as theirs.
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  • Jewish Women's Archive page
  • Ernestine Rose: A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, Published in 1881.