because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ernestine Rose

Some people are influenced at a young age to take on specific beliefs. Some -- such as in-your-face woman Ernestine Rose -- are not so easily influenced. Growing up in a wealthy home in Russia-Poland in the early 1800's and counseled by her rigorously religious rabbi father to accept their traditional Jewish faith like the good little girl she was supposed to be, Rose not only rejected Judaism by the time she was an adolescent, but the very idea of God altogether. Further, she had simultaneously rejected the idea that women are inferior to men and ought to be subservient to them. This is the kind of thing that makes some folks ask where in the world do in-your-face women come up with this stuff?

Rose was only sixteen when her mother died, but she didn't sit around waiting for her father to marry her off to a man of his choice. She set out on her own, traveling all over Europe, selling room deodorizers to support herself. It's hard to keep an in-your-face woman indefinitely under the radar, though, and, over time, Rose became a sought-after speaker on secularism and human rights and ultimately even helped to found the Association of All Classes of All Nations, an organization that pushed for human rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, class or nationality was.

Eventually marrying and emigrating to New York City, Rose was soon on the lecture trail again, speaking against slavery and for religious tolerance and women's rights everywhere. "It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists," Rose was known for saying, "and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so." Needless to say, controversy followed. One newspaper editor, in an attempt to discourage listeners, called her "a female Atheist...a thousand times below a prostitute."

Still, Rose continued to speak and people continued to listen. Sometimes, she would whip up such a lather among local folks with her writing before she even showed up that everyone in town would come out to hear her. Of course, sometimes she had to run for her life.

For more than three decades, as is often the case with in-your-face women, Rose worked so hard, even as her age advanced, that she had to return to Europe and start over to slow down her level of activity. But when she left for England, her many supporters, a number of whom were in-your-face women themselves, gave her a big send-off with lots of gifts and plenty of money. Not everybody hates in-your-face women.

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