Ernestine Louise Rose

1810-1892

©Tarzanna Graphics 1998A truly unsung hero and champion of women, Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski was born in Piotrkow, Poland, January 13, 1810. The daughter of a Polish Rabbi, she was, in her own words "a rebel from age five." At the age of sixteen, she found herself fighting the Polish courts to avoid an undesired arranged marriage and denial of her mother's inheritance which was to become a part of her dowry. Winning that battle, she left home with the proceeds and lived in Germany, Holland and France. She supported herself by marketing an "aromatherapy" air-freshening device of her own making. Finally settling in England, she met utopian socialist Robert Owen and became one of his disciples. In 1832 or 1836 (the sources vary) she married London jeweler William E. Rose, a protestant member of the group, and together with a few others they immigrated to the United States.

Discovering that New York laws all but reduced a married woman's civil status to that of a possession and that a married woman had no claim of her own to property or even her own wages, yet her tax obligation was that of a full citizen, Ernestine wasted little time in making an attack on the New York legislature. She wrote the first petition for a law granting married women the right to own property in 1840. She finally, after twelve years, managed to see that law passed in 1848, only a few months before the convening of the Seneca Fall Women's Rights Convention. By that time Rose had already spoken up and addressed the state legislature five times.

In 1850, Ernestine began helping to organize the first National Woman's Rights Convention which was to meet in Massachusetts in 1851. She became close friends with Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, fellow leaders who held high respect for Ernestine. The fact that she was an immigrant of Jewish descent, makes her involvement in American women's rights, a mostly Protestant group of women, that much more of a standout in this field. She stood against a resolution offered by Antoinette Brown (later Blackwell), which stated the "the Bible recognizes the rights...of women." Ernestine's point (very well put) was that "we require NO written authority from Moses or Paul." That measure caused Brown's resolution to fail.

With remarkable powers of diplomacy, Rose started a public speaking career almost as soon as arriving in this country. As early as 1844 she was lecturing in the "backwoods of Ohio" and of course was fighting the New York legislature on the point of married women's rights. In 1854, on a trip to Washington with Susan B. Anthony, she stopped to speak at meetings in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Upon their return, she was elected president of the National Women's Rights Convention. Again, like a ram, she locked horns with Antoinette Brown Blackwell over a divorce resolution at the 1860 convention.

The Civil War brought on new issues to be dealt with and Rose was welcomed into the Loyal League and in the postwar American Equal Rights Association. She never attached any major importance to her Jewish background until 1863, when she had a debate with the abolitionist editor of the Boston Investigator, a man she accused of being anti-Semitic. While speaking across the country in as many as twenty-three different states, she also met and became a strong ally of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a woman who shared Rose's opinion on religion.

In 1869, both Stanton and Anthony left the American Equal Rights Association, and Rose and her English husband moved permanently back to England. Anthony secured "a handsome sum of money and a number of presents for her" as a tribute to honor her before her departure. Rose did come back to the United States in 1873 for a meeting ot the National Woman Suffrage Association. However, she wanted nothing published about herself and refused an offer in 1877 from Anthony to write a portion of the History of Woman Suffrage. After her death in Brighton England on August 4, 1892, Stanton and Anthony saw to it that she was given her appropriate place in history.

Carol A. Kolmerten has written a book published October of 1998 titled "The American LIfe of Ernestine L. Rose (Writing American Women)", ISBN 0815605285.

 

 
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