Stokes, Rose Pastor (1879–1933)

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Stokes, Rose Pastor (1879–1933)

Polish-born American Socialist and Communist leader. Name variations: Rose Pastor (took the name Pastor from stepfather). Born Rose Harriet Wieslander on July 18, 1879, in Augustów, Russian Poland; died of cancer on June 20, 1933, in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany; daughter of Jacob Wieslander and Anna (Lewin) Wieslander; had little formal education; married James Graham Phelps Stokes, in 1905 (divorced 1925); married Isaac Romaine (also known as V.J. Jerome), in 1927; no children.

Rose Pastor Stokes was born to Jewish parents in Russian-occupied Poland on July 18, 1879. Her father died shortly after her birth and when her mother remarried, Stokes took her stepfather's last name, Pastor. The family moved to London, where they lived in poverty. Rose worked from the age of four, helping her mother sew bows on shoes. Between ages seven and nine, she attended a free school, her only formal education.

When Stokes was 11, her family moved to the United States, settling in Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked in a cigar factory and attempted to educate herself. She wrote poems and in 1900 became a contributor to the Jewish Daily News in New York, joining the paper's staff when her family moved to the Bronx in 1903.

While working there, Stokes met James Graham Phelps Stokes, a wealthy Socialist sympathizer and nephew of the philanthropists Olivia Phelps Stokes and Caroline Phelps Stokes The pair married on July 18, 1905, in what was termed by the press a "Cinderella" wedding given the differences in their economic backgrounds. Settling in New York's Russian quarter, the Stokeses surrounded themselves with radical and artistic friends, and became active in the Intercollegiate Socialist Society and the Socialist Party. Rose Stokes was a lecturer and labor organizer and was active in the New York hotel and restaurant workers' strike in 1912. She continued to write, contributing articles, reviews and poems to Independent, Everybody's, Arena and Century. In addition to her numerous articles, reviews and poems, Stokes translated Morris Rosenfeld's Yiddish Songs of Labor and Other Poems in 1914. In 1916, she wrote The Woman Who Wouldn't, a play about a female labor leader.

Because of their pacifist views, the Stokeses withdrew from the Socialist Party when the United States entered World War I; however, Rose Stokes had a change of heart and returned to the party after the Russian Revolution. In March 1918, she was indicted under the Espionage Act for writing to the Kansas City Star: "I am for the people, while the Government is for the profiteers." A now-famous trial resulted in her conviction and a ten-year sentence for interfering with military recruitment. Her conviction was overturned on appeal and her case became a symbol of anti-radical harassment.

Stokes aligned herself with the more radical leftist elements and joined the Communist Party in 1919 where she worked on behalf of African-American workers. She often contributed to Pravda and the Worker (later the Daily Worker). Throughout the next decade, she continued to write, lecture and demonstrate, which led to frequent encounters with the law. Stokes' increasingly radical views led to her divorce in 1925. (Anzia Yezierska 's novel Salome of the Tenements [1923] is partially based on the Pastor-Stokes marriage.) Two years later, she married language teacher and Communist Isaac Romaine, although she retained her first husband's name.

In 1930, Stokes learned she had cancer and retired to Westport, Connecticut. Believing that her illness was the result of a police clubbing during a demonstration the year before, Communist friends raised money for medical treatment in Europe. She died in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, on June 20, 1933, age 53.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Stokes, Rose Pastor. I Belong to the Working Class: The Unfinished Autobiography of Rose Pastor Stokes. Herbert Shapiro and David L. Sterling, eds. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

suggested reading:

Birmingham, Stephen. "The Rest of Us": The Rise of America's Eastern European Jews. NY: Berkley, 1985.

Howe, Irving, and Kenneth Libo. How We Lived: A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America, 1880–1930. NY: Richard Marek, 1979.

Scholten, Pat Creech. "Militant Women for Economic Justice: The Persuasion of Mary Harris Jones , Ella Reeve Bloor , Rose Pastor Stokes, Rose Schneiderman and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn ," Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1978.

Shepard, Richard F., and Vicki Gold Levi. Live & Be Well: A Celebration of Yiddish Culture in America from the First Immigrants to the First World War. NY: Ballantine, 1982.

Tamarkin, Stanley Ray. "Rose Pastor Stokes: The Portrait of a Radical Woman, 1905–1919," Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1983.

Yezierska, Anzia. Salome of the Tenements. IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

Zipser, Arthur, and Pearl Zipser. Fire and Grace: The Life of Rose Pastor Stokes. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Barbara Koch , freelance writer, Farmington Hills, Michigan

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Stokes, Rose Pastor (1879–1933)

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