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Rose, Ernestine Potovsky


ROSE, ERNESTINE POTOVSKY (1810–1892), U.S. feminist and social activist. Ernestine Potovsky was born in Piotrkow, Poland, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. Early in life she rebelled against her traditional upbringing and at the age of 17 she left home and traveled first to Europe and then to England in 1830. In 1832 she met the English social reformer Robert Owen, whose disciple she became; the same year she married another non-Jewish Owenite, William Rose, a jeweler and silversmith by trade. The couple moved to New York City in 1836 and Ernestine Rose traveled throughout the eastern United States giving Owenite lectures on the science of government, religion, free schools, abolition of slavery and women's rights. From 1843 to 1846, she and her husband lived in an Owenite commune near Syracuse, New York, while she continued to lecture. She campaigned especially for the passage of a married women's property rights bill in New York State, which finally passed the legislature in 1848. In 1850 Ernestine Rose helped organize the first National Woman's Rights Convention, which met in Massachusetts. An acquaintance and colleague of such abolitionists and feminists as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony, she campaigned vigorously in the years to come all over the U.S. on behalf of women's property rights, women's suffrage and reform of divorce laws, especially in New York State. Together with Susan Anthony she was a leader of the more radical wing of the suffrage movement that refused to concede that other social issues, most notably abolition and rights of black Americans, had precedence over feminist questions, and as such she bitterly attacked the 14th and 15th amendments for constitutionally emancipating blacks but not women, and urged their rejection. Along with other militants, she helped found the Women's Suffrage Society in 1869. In the same year she and her husband returned to England where she lived a life of semi-retirement because of bad health, though continuing to speak out on feminist issues. Although she seemed to attach no particular significance to her Jewish background, she did engage in 1863 in a long-published debate with Horace Seaver, the abolitionist editor of the Boston Investigator, whom she accused of antisemitic opinions.


Y. Suhl, Ernestine P. Rose and the Battle for Human Rights (1959).

[Hillel Halkin]

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