Ernestine Rose became a major figure in the nineteenth-century woman's rights movement in the United States and played an important role as a forceful delegate to conventions and as a popular public speaker and writer. She was, however, unique among the activists in her political milieu: a Polish immigrant, a Jew, a freethinker, and a self-proclaimed infidel. These identities come together seamlessly in this highly engaging biography by Bonnie S. Anderson, a scholar rightfully renowned for her stellar work on the international woman's movement and feminism. As the title of the book indicates, Anderson's subject began life as the daughter of a well-to-do rabbi, but, while still a young woman living in Poland, she began to question her faith. During a sojourn in England, she found both spiritual solace and rational enlightenment within the freethinking circles of the socialist Robert Owen. In 1836, at age twenty-five, she married a fellow Owenite, William Rose, and accompanied him to New York where she determinedly breached etiquette, first as woman audacious enough to lecture in public and second as a lecturer and essayist on free thought. Soon, Rose became equally passionate about woman's rights and antislavery. Anderson shines a spotlight on the significance of this distinctive and unusual blend of commitments. A wide-ranging and informative biography, The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter provides exceptional insights into the status of Christianity within the major political movements of the nineteenth century. Anderson situates Rose, as a proud infidel, among the leading abolitionists who routinely invoked Christianity to condemn slavery as immoral and sinful. In turn, she considers Rose's equally sticky position as a freethinker within the woman's rights movement. At the first national woman's rights convention in Worcester in 1850, Anderson notes, Rose stood apart as the only speaker to defend woman's rights without reference to Christianity. A decade later, Rose was still holding her ground. At the 1860 convention, where delegates argued about the divine origin of marriage, Rose hesitated to speak. As Anderson points out, Rose decidedly viewed marriage as a secular institution but drew back from taking a public stand lest she, an infamous freethinker, cast the shadow of free love and harlotry over the entire woman's rights movement. The affinity of woman's rights and Christianity only intensified during the Civil War, peaking with the leaders' endorsement of the United States as a “Christian Republic.” From this point on, Rose began a move toward the sidelines, although declining health pushed her even further. Anderson offers a model life-and-times study of Rose, built on solid primary research and enriched by the best recent scholarship pertinent to all aspects of Rose's various political affiliations. She also frames a biography, rich in context, that seems surprisingly relevant to readers today. Anderson sagely concludes that Rose's concerns for racial equality, feminism, and free thought, enriched by an international perspective, gain new importance during an era of resurging religious fundamentalism. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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