Early Women’s Rights Leader
Preface, Introduction and Notes by Paula Doress-Worters
Foreword by Ellen Carol Dubois
389 pages. List $18.95 $15.16 from publisher after discount plus shipping
Feminist Press of CUNY.
Order from publisher at http://www.feministpress.org/
“For here lies the corner stone of all the injustices done woman, the wrong idea from which all other wrongs proceed. She is not acknowledged as mistress of herself. From her cradle to her grave she is another’s. We do indeed need and demand the other rights of which I have spoke, but let us first obtain OURSELVES.” - Ernestine L. Rose from her address at the fourth
National Women’s Rights Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, October 1853.
Ernestine L. Rose (1810 to 1892) was unique among the founders of the women’s rights movement. She was a Polish immigrant of Jewish background whose compelling oratory linked three reform movements: women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and religious freethought. Through her activism in diverse social movements, she drew attention to women as important voices for reform.
From her arrival in the United States in 1836, Ernestine L. Rose spoke out courageously, beginning as an itinerant lecturer, in a time when speaking in public to “promiscuous assemblies,” meaning mixed audiences of women and men, was regarded as vaguely scandalous behavior for women. Also in the year of her arrival, she was the first in the U.S. to petition a legislature for women’s rights. By 1850, she was a central figure in the leadership of a nascent national women’s rights movement, signing the ‘calls’ to conventions, speaking, framing resolutions, and debating them. Within a few years, she was celebrated as “Queen of the Platform,” one of the most skilled and sophisticated of the women’s rights reform orators. In her speeches and letters, we rediscover Rose’s unique voice, logical, fervent, occasionally humorous, and ever inspiring.
Ellen Carol Dubois writes in the Foreword to Mistress of Herself, “Paula Doress-Worters has chosen to let Rose’s words speak largely for herself, providing for the first time virtually a complete record of Rose’s public life….[O]nce we insist upon Rose’s proper place among the leaders of American feminism’s first generation, our sense of who and what fueled the earliest phases of that movement must be considerably enlarged.”
Paula Doress-Worters is a Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, founder of the Ernestine Rose Society, and co-author of the original and subsequent editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves and related books. She tells us in her Preface what drew her to undertake the challenge of restoring the elusive Ernestine Rose to her rightful place in the pantheon of founders of the first wave of feminism. Her Introduction situates Rose in the context of her time and makes a case for her pivotal place in history right beside, or perhaps a little ahead of Stanton and Anthony.
Susan B. Anthony displayed a picture of Ernestine Rose prominently among others on the wall of her study, and named her one of three foremothers who brought into being women’s rights reform as a social movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton eulogized her for her “matchless powers as a speaker…. her rich musical voice and ready flow of choice language…. clear, logical, and at times impassioned” and recalled “how safe we all felt when she had the floor…”
Ahead of her time, this suffragist won debates and hearts with her vast store of knowledge and irrefutable arguments delivered with grace and humor, often using her critics’ own statements to prove her points.
Through a masterful interspersal of historical background with the words of this courageous woman, Paula Doress-Worters brings us a fascinating story of the earliest suffragists whose efforts ultimately led to winning the vote for women in 1920. Mistress of Herself is a must-read for every woman, and an absolute necessity for every high school and college library. It is a real gem.”
--Kappie Spencer, Founder/Director of the National Gender Balance Project.
“How wonderful to have the speeches of Ernestine Rose--the leading orator of the early women’s rights movement--available at last! This fine collection restores her passionate arguments for feminism, secularism, and anti-slavery to history, expanding our view of the past and inspiring dreams for the future. Important for scholars, activists, and progressives generally.”
--Bonnie S. Anderson, Author of Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement, 1830-1860. Oxford University Press.
“Bravo to Paula Doress-Worters and The Feminist Press for bringing Ernestine Rose’s letters and speeches to all of us. Though Rose died over a hundred years ago, her words still thrill and inspire us. Doress-Worters’ carefully researched introduction and explanatory notes provide a rich cultural context for understanding this remarkable woman.”
--Carol Kolmerten, author of The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse University Press.
“At long last, a collection of the writings of the all-important, but lesser known women’s rights’ activist, Ernestine Rose. This collection of her work adds a new dimension to, and complicates women’s rights history, for unlike the majority of Protestant New England abolitionist and suffrage leaders Ernestine Susmund Potowski Rose was a socialist, Jewish, atheist, Polish immigrant. The thorough all encompassing collection excavates toasts, letters, reviews and debates covering a wide range of issues, most still relevant today, global human rights, separation of church and state, free speech, anti Semitism and racism, and women’s economic and political rights.”
Doress-Worters is a veteran of numerous book tours beginning in 1973, to publicize Our Bodies, Ourselves and related books, such as Ourselves and Our Children, and The New Ourselves Growing Older. She has taught at Emerson College, Boston College, and Umass – Boston, and spoken and led workshops at Harvard University, Barnard College, Suffolk University, Worcester Women’s History Conference, professional conferences, and the Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen, Denmark (1980).
Prior to publication of Mistress of Herself, Doress-Worters convened and moderated a panel “The Life and Legacy of Ernestine L. Rose: Secular Jew; Women’s Rights and Human Rights Activist; International Socialist.” at the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, spring, 2002. Panelists were: Ellen Carol DuBois; Carol A. Kolmerten; Bonnie S. Anderson with commentary by Rosalyn F. Baxandall.
In her first year as a WSRC Scholar, Doress-Worters founded the Ernestine Rose Society at Brandeis University and raised funds to re-build the grave marker of Ernestine and William Rose at Highgate Cemetery in London. For the re-dedication event on the 110th anniversary of Ernestine’s death, she created a script composed of the original graveside eulogy from 1892, and quotes from Rose’s contemporaries commenting on qualities of her character and skills as an orator.