Overlooked by historians for over half a century following her death, Ernestine L. Rose (1810−1892) was one of the foremost orators and social reformers of her era. A fearless human rights activist, she fought for racial equality, women’s rights, freethought and religious freedom, and she can be considered a forerunner of twentieth-century activists in civil rights and the women’s movement. Rose was a pioneer in many movements, articulating the notion that all Americans are endowed with natural rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and by the Constitution. Her passion was to see everyone―women and men, regardless of race, religion or ethnic origin―possessing the civil rights promised by American democracy.
Unlike other nineteenth-century female reformers such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose was the only non-Christian, foreign-born woman. For this reason, she did not entirely fit in and she felt tensions within the women’s rights and abolitionist circles, as nativism and anti-Semitism worsened in the United States. Rose’s outspoken opinions put her at odds with the religious zeal of the American public as well as that of many reformers. A visionary leader, she crisscrossed two continents to fight for change, seeking to raise public awareness of international issues and of social movements in Europe and in the United States.
The topic of this book is highly relevant to current struggles for racial justice and for preserving and strengthening democracy in the United States. Rose’s words are as pertinent today as they were during her lifetime. This book offers a new understanding of Ernestine Rose’s important contributions to American democracy.
Joyce B. Lazarus is professor emerita of world languages at Framingham State University.
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1: A Polish-Jewish Upbringing
Chapter 2: Breaking up the Time-Hardened Soil
Chapter 3: Confronting Slavery and Racism
Chapter 4: Sowing Seeds and Harvesting Fruit: Women’s Rights
Chapter 5: The World is my Country
Chapter 6: Climbing a Mountain: Freethought and Religious Freedom
Chapter 7: Late Autumn Harvest
Epilogue : “I Have Lived”
About the Author
Joyce Lazarus’ intellectual biography of Ernestine Rose stands out with its clarity and brevity in explaining Rose’s beliefs, all of which are relevant to American challenges today. Now, when we celebrate the idea of oppressed people “finding their voices,” Rose is a model of forging a career with her voice, even speaking in public as a woman! Nowadays, when “intersectionality” has become a buzzword, Rose can inspire us with her advocacy for multiple intersecting ideas simultaneously, including the fight against antisemitism. In a day when we explore systemic sources of racism, sexism, class and religious prejudice, Rose who, although an emigrant from a Jewish religious household in Poland, lectured Americans forcefully about the way religion is an impediment to free and rational thought. Rose claimed the right to be “an infidel,” a non-believer who blamed the church for our ignorance. We should express gratitude to Lazarus for bringing Rose back into focus at a time when America is so divided that we seriously question the viability of democratic institutions. Who can step forward and be the Ernestine Rose we need today?