Ernestine Rose

19th Century Jewish Feminist and Abolitionist

Ernestine Rose
Ernestine Rose. Illustration from The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony by Ida Husted Harper

Known for: work for women's rights, especially married women's property rights; sometimes called the first Jewish feminist

Dates: January 13, 1810 - August 4, 1892

Occupation: reformer, lecturer, activist

Also known as: Ernestine Louise Sismondi Potowski Rose, Ernestine Susmond Potowski

More About Ernestine Rose

Ernestine Rose, born Ernestine Sismondi in Russian Poland, was the daughter of a rabbi. Her mother, who came from a wealthy family, died Ernestine was sixteen; she had already moved towards free thought and away from the strict Judaism of her father.

She escaped a marriage her father tried to arrange for her by going to court.

She left Poland in 1827, taking part of her dowry with her. She lived in Prussia for two years, protesting a law that required non-native Jews to have local sponsors. After making some money from an invention to reduce odors in tenement houses, she then traveled to the Netherlands and to Paris.

Ernestine Rose in England

Moving to England in 1831, she met and became associated with such reformers as Elizabeth Fry and Robert Dale Owen, and joined with Owen in founding the Association of All Classes of All Nations, working for full legal equality of all people.

In a civil ceremony in 1836 in England, she married William Rose, a wealthy English jeweler, who was also a follower of Owen's utopian socialism and supported many of the same causes that Ernestine Rose did. They moved to New York City.

Women's Rights in America

Almost as soon as Ernestine Rose arrived in America, she began working for women's rights.

Working with Paulina Wright Davis and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Rose was key in the New York state effort to win the right of married women to control property they had brought into the marriage, and succeeded in passing the Married Women's Property Act of 1848. In 1854, she helped win another law in New York that gave women equal guardianship of their children.


Ernestine Rose also was an outspoken abolitionist, even traveling to the South to speak against slavery. Her background as a Jew and her outspoken atheism were controversial. One newspaper described her as "a thousand times below a prostitute" for her atheism.

Woman Suffrage

Rose became involved in the woman suffrage movement, and was a popular speaker. On her election as president of the National Women's Rights Convention in 1854, some questioned her fitness for that position as an atheist, and Susan B. Anthony came to her defense.

After the Civil War Ernestine Rose criticized those who asked the women to wait for their equality until after the equality of former slaves was established. She helped to found the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, along with others including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony considered Rose to be one of her heroines, and had a photograph of Ernestine Rose in her study.

Later Years

Ernestine Rose became an American citizen in 1869, and in June of that year she and her husband retired to England. She spoke in the United States in 1873 at a National Woman Suffrage Association convention, but returned again to England.

Stanton and Anthony came to England in 1883 to talk Rose into returning to America, but she remained in England, where she died in 1892.

The Ernestine Rose Society was founded in 1998. The Society restored the grave marker for the Roses, and held a dedication ceremony on August 4, 2002, the anniversary of Ernestine Rose's death.

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: William Ella Rose (married 1836; jeweler, silversmith, reformer; died 1882)
  • no children

Religion: Jewish upbringing and heritage; freethinker or atheist or deist

Organizations: National Woman Suffrage Association, Women's National Loyal League, Amerian Equal Rights Association, Universal Peace Society

Books About Ernestine Rose:

Alberta Eiseman. Rebels and Reformers: Biographies of Four Jewish Americans Uriah Phillips Levy, Ernestine L. Rose, Louis D. Brandeis, Lillian D. Wald.


Carol A. Kolmerten. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. 1999.

Yuri Suhl. Ernestine L. Rose and the Battle for Human Rights. 1959.

Yuri Suhl. Eloquent Crusader: Ernestine Rose. 1970.

Yuri Suhl. Ernestine L. Rose: Women's Rights Pioneer. 1990.

Paula Doress-Worters, ed. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women's Rights Leader. 2008.