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


  • 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.
  • 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...
    • At the Social Reform Convention, Boston (1844), quoted in Kolmerten, Carol A., The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999, p. 49.
  • “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.
  • "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)
  • "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)
  • "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)
  • "…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)
  • "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..."
    • Speech At the Thomas Paine anniversary celebration, New York, Jan. 29, 1852
  • "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
  • "…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…Are the Jews in Boston so much worse, that their spread is to be dreaded even by Infidels? …Let us as Infidels…not add to the prejudice already existing towards the Jews, or any other sect. Yours for justice."
    • Letter to the "Boston Investigator," Feb. 10, 1864.

Speech (August 4, 1853)Edit

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)Edit

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

The Necessity for the Utter Extinction of Slavery" (May 14, 1863)Edit

  • 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)Edit

  • 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 RoseEdit

  • 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)

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Ernestine Rose: A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, Published in 1881.