Women’s History Month: Ernestine Rose

Originally from Poland, Ernestine Rose was a nineteenth-century human rights advocate and atheist who was committed to the rights of women and the abolition of slavery. Below are excerpts from the many speeches she delivered during her time in the United States. She was one of the first women to advocate for property rights for women as well as one of the first women to speak publicly and forcefully about the morality of atheism.

On Women’s Rights:
“Humanity recognizes no sex—virtue recognizes no sex—mind recognizes no sex—life and death, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery recognize no sex. Like man, woman comes involuntarily into existence; like him she possesses physical and mental and moral powers, on the proper cultivation of which depends her happiness; like him she is subject to all the vicissitudes of life.” -1851

On Slavery:
“What is it to be a slave? Not to be your own, bodily, mentally, and morally—that is to be a slave. To work hard, to fare ill, to suffer hardship, that is not slavery; for many of us white men and women have to work hard, have to fare ill, have to suffer hardship, and yet we are not slaves.Slavery is, not to belong to yourself—to be robbed of yourself. There is nothing that I so much abhor as that single thing—to be robbed of one’s self.” -1853.

On Atheism:
“Truth, justice, charity, kindness and love, combined, make the creed of morality and virtue belonging to man, and necessary to this life; for it teaches him his duty to his fellow man, while religion, being a mystery, belongs wholly to some other unknown life, hence we can make no use of it in this. It teaches faith, blind, implicit faith, in things unseen and unknown; morality has nothing to do with religion, for a man may be ever so virtuous and moral, yet if he does not profess faith, he is called an Infidel.” -1859

Excerpts from Mistress of Herself: Speeches & Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader edited by Paula Doress-Worters.