Ernestine L. Rose

Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College

On this date in 1810, Ernestine L. Rose, née Potowski, was born in a Jewish ghetto in Poland. As the affectionate only child of an orthodox rabbi, she was "a rebel by the age of five." The dedicated activist became 19th-century America's most outspoken atheist, as well as its first lobbyist for women's rights. Rose championed the Married Women's Property Act first introduced by freethinking Judge Thomas Hertell in the New York Legislature in 1836, which became a model law when enacted in 1848. Rose had the distinction of being barred as an atheist from the nation's capitol by its chaplain in 1854. Known as the "Queen of the Platform," the ringletted woman's rights activist was frequently harassed by minister-led mobs. Her best-known freethought speech, "A Defense of Atheism," was delivered in 1861 and is reprinted in the anthology Women Without Superstition. Rose, a cohort of Susan B. Anthony, lectured widely for women's rights, atheism and abolition, retiring to England at the end of her life. D. 1892.

“Do you tell me that the Bible is against our rights? Then I say that our claims do not rest upon a book written no one knows when, or by whom. Do you tell me what Paul or Peter says on the subject? Then again I reply that our claims do not rest on the opinions of any one, not even on those of Paul and Peter, . . . Books and opinions, no matter from whom they came, if they are in opposition to human rights, are nothing but dead letters.”

—Ernestine Rose, responding to religious heckler at Seventh National Woman's Rights Convention, New York, Nov. 25-26, 1856 (History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 1: 661-663)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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