Ernestine Louise Rose (1810–1892) was an American suffragist, abolitionist, and freethinker. Often overlooked by historians, she was one of the founders and leaders of the women’s rights movement.
Born in Poland, she was the daughter of a wealthy rabbi. She soon began questioning her father on religion, to which he once told her “A young girl does not want to understand the object of her creed, but to accept and believe it.” When he betrothed her against her will, she pleaded her case to the secular civil court, which ruled in her favor.
Estranged from her father, she traveled across Europe arriving to England, where she met socialist Robert Owen, who took her under his wing and invited her to speak to like-minded audiences. She met William Ella Rose, a disciple of Owen, and they chose to be married by a civil magistrate, not a religious minister. In 1836 they emigrated to the United States.
In 1854 Rose was elected president of the National Women’s Rights Convention, in spite of objections that she was an atheist. Her election was heavily supported by Susan B. Anthony, who declared that “every religion—or none—should have an equal right on the platform.” When she was invited to deliver an anti-slavery lecture, a local newspaper called her “a female Atheist… a thousand times below a prostitute.” When Rose responded to the slur in a letter to the competing paper, she sparked off a town feud that created much publicity.
She successfully lobbied for legislation in New York that allowed married women to retain their own property and have equal guardianship of children. In 1869 she and her husband returned to England, where she began to advocate women’s suffrage. She died in Brighton in 1892.