Rose, Ernestine L.

Ernestine L. Rose (1810-1891) was one of the earliest and most prominent advocates of woman's rights and freethought. She was born Ernestine Potowski of Jewish parents in Poland. Rebelling against the strict Juda- ism of her home, she wandered to London, where she met and married William Rose, a broadminded advocate of the reformer Robert Owen. The Roses moved to New York City in 1836. Her husband supported her as she became one of America's first female public speakers on behalf of woman's rights and freethought. She campaigned for a pioneering law that gave New York women rights in their husbands' property.

In part because of her experience at public speaking in what was for her a second language, Ernestine Rose became one of the woman's rights movement's most reliable orators. Despite her open atheism, she often addressed assemblies in liberal churches on issues of woman's rights. Notably, in January 1855 she joined high-profile feminist Susan B. Anthony to address a woman's rights convention in a Wesleyan church at Penn Yan, New York.

In 1869 the woman's movement split between moderates led by Anthony -- who sought to make common cause with Christian groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union -- and more radical feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, who viewed the church as an historic oppressor of women. Discouraged, Ernestine Rose and her still-radical husband removed to England, where they abandoned activism and focused on living frugally in their declining years.