|Lived:||January 13, 1810—August 4, 1892 (aged 82)|
|Career:||Suffragist, women's rights activist, feminist, civil rights activist|
Ernestine Louise Rose was born January 13, 1810, in Piotrkow, Poland. As a rabbi's daughter, she was offered more education than women commonly received at that time. She studied Hebrew scriptures and Talmud with her father.
After her mother's death, her father, hoping to keep Ernestine in the fold, arranged a marriage without her consent. Ernestine, then 16, refused the match and fought to retain her inheritance from her mother, successfully defending against a claim for damages in a secular court by the spurned suitor. At 17, she left home for Berlin, successfully suing for entry to the city where draconian regulations severely limited Jewish settlement.
Arriving in Berlin, Rose supported herself by tutoring and marketing perfumed papers of her own invention to deodorize crowded tenement housing. Seeking enlightenment, she studied the texts of all the great religions, and concluded that all were irrational and oppressive to women. Her goal for herself, and for society, was intellectual freedom, freedom from the constraints of religious creeds and dogma.
While disavowing Judaism as irrational, Rose nonetheless refused conversion to Christianity. "Shall I leave the tree to join a branch?" Her reply is particularly notable given that it was the path chosen by so many desperate German Jews of the time. The German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, referred to baptism as the 'entry ticket to Western civilization,' in ironic justification of his own conversion to Christianity which he later regretted.
The following year, Rose traveled around Europe in search of colleagues who cared as much as she did about justice and equality. She spent time in Holland and France, and then arrived in England in 1830. There she became a follower of Robert Owen, a wealthy industrialist turned social reformer, who preached a form of community-based socialism. Owenite socialism emphasized improving the conditions of people's daily lives, rather than blaming them for shortcomings which were the product of deprivation.
An active feminist wing in the Owenite movement provided Ernestine with opportunities to hone her public speaking skills and improve her English so that by the time she left for America, she was quite fluent, though still with a noticeable accent. Before leaving England, Ernestine married Englishman and fellow Owenite, William Ella Rose in a civil ceremony.
Rose arrived in New York in May of 1836. She was one of the first to speak publicly in America on women's rights, and the first to petition for women's rights. After 12 years of activism, in 1848, New York passed the first married women's property law in the United States. The New York campaign led to lifelong connections between Rose, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Paulina Wright Davis who, together with growing numbers of women, would build a women's rights movement in America.
Susan B. Anthony, who joined the movement in 1852 and became its best known leader, often acknowledged Rose's pioneering role and kept her photograph on her study wall. Stanton also acknowledged the value of this early victory to the building of a national movement, which is often assumed to have started with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.
For the next 30 years, Rose was an active campaigner on the lecture circuit, attending every National Women's Rights Convention between 1850 and 1869, and many state and local conventions as well. She was hailed as "The Queen of the Platform" for being the best female orator of mid-19th century America.
She traveled to over 23 states by railroad car and stagecoach, speaking in churches, barns and state legislatures. She is remembered as the person who brought the women's movement to the state of Michigan. She was the only one who addressed new immigrants in languages such as German and French.
Though Rose's early and continuing contribution to the advancement of women's rights is unquestionable, her social status may have contributed to the lack of recognition from historians. She was an immigrant in a period of rising nativist sentiment, a Jew in largely Protestant reform movements, a freethinker and atheist in movements that often turned to the Bible for authority.
Rose and her husband left America in 1869 for retirement in England. In England, the Roses continued their commitment to the women's movement and the freethinker movement, but on a less active scale. William Rose died in London in January of 1882.
In 1883, Anthony and Stanton visited Rose in London and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade her to return to America. Rose was unwilling to do so. She died in Brighton, England, on August 4, 1892, and was buried next to her beloved William at Highgate Cemetery in London.