Ernestine Rose, born in a Jewish community in Poland, left her home alone at a young age and came to the United States, where she associated herself with controversial issues including those regarding womens rights. In 1851, at the second national convention for Women's Rights, Ernestine made a dramatic speech, so impactful that it was later reprinted and circulated.
From the cradle to the grave [woman] is subject to the power and control of man. Father, guardian, or husband, one conveys her like some piece of merchandise over to the other.
At marriage she loses her entire identity, and her being is said to have become merged in her husband. Has nature thus merged it? Has she ceased to exist and feel pleasure and pain?...What an inconsistency that from the moment she enters the compact in which she assumes the high responsibility of wife and mother, she ceases legally to exist and becomes a purely submissive being. Blind submission in women is considered a virtue, while submission to wrong is itself wrong, and resistance to wrong is virtue alike in women as in man.
But it will be said that the husband provides for the wife, or in other words, he feeds, clothes and shelters her! I wish I had the power to make every one before me fully realize the degradation contained in that idea. Yes! He keeps her, and so he does a favorite horse; by law they are both considered his property. Both may, when the cruelty of the owner compels them to run away, be brought back by the strong arm of the law and according to a still extant law in England, both may be led by the halter to the market place and sold. This is humiliating indeed but nevertheless true, and the sooner these things are known and understood, the better for humanity. It is no fancy sketch. I know that some endeavor to throw the mantle of romance over the subject and treat woman like some ideal existence, not liable to the ills of life. Let those deal in fancy who have nothing better to deal in; we have to do with sober, sad realities, with stubborn facts....Man forgets that woman can not be degraded without its reacting on himself. The impress of her mind is stamped on him by nature and the early education of the mother, which no after-training can entirely efface; and therefore, the estimation she is held in falls back with double force upon him. Yet, from the force of prejudice against her, he knows it not.
Not long ago, I saw an account of two offenders, brought before a Justice of New York. One was charged with stealing a pair of boots, for which offense he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment; the other crime was assault and battery upon his wife; he was let off with a reprimand by the judge! With my principles, I am entirely opposed to punishment, and hold that to reform the erring and remove the causes of evil is much more efficient, as well as just, than to punish, But the judge showed us the comparative value which he set on these two kinds of property. But then you must remember that the boots were taken by a stranger, while the wife was insulted by her legal owner!...
Let married women have the same right to property that their husbands have; for whatever the difference in their respective occupations, the duties of the wife are as indispensable and far more arduous than her husband's. Why then, should the wife, at the death of her husband, not be his heir to the same extent that he is heir to her? In this inequality there is involved another wrong. When the wife dies, the husband is left in the undisturbed possession of there is, and the children are left with him; no change is made, no stranger intrudes on his home and his affliction. But when the husband dies, the widow at best receives a mere pittance, while strangers assume authority denied to the wife. The sanctuary of affliction must be desecrated by executors; everything must be ransacked and assessed, lest she should steal something out of her own house: and to cap the climax, the children must be placed under guardians. When the husband dies poor, to be sure no guardian is required, and the children are left for the mother to care and toil for, as best she may. But when anything is left for their maintenance, then it must be placed in the hands of strangers for safekeeping! The bringing up and safety of the children are left with the mother, and safe they are in her hands. But a few hundred or thousand dollars can not be intrusted with her!
But, say they, "in case of a second marriage, the children must be protected in their property." Does that reason not hold as good in the case of the husband as in that of the wife? .....
According to a late act, the wife has a right to the property she brings at marriage, or receives in any way after marriage. Here is some provision for the favored few; but for the laboring many, there is none. The mass of the people commence life with no other capital than the union of head, hearts and hands. To the benefit of this best of capital the wife has no right. If they are unsuccessful in married life, who suffers more the bitter consequences of poverty than the wife? But if successful, she has not a dollar to call her own...
In case of separation, why should the children be taken from the protecting care of the mother? Who has a better right to them than she? How much do fathers generally do toward bringing them up? When he comes home from business and the child is in good humor and handsome trim, he takes the little darling on his knee and plays with it. But when the wife with the care of the whole household on her shoulders, is not able to put them in the best order, how much care does he do for them? Oh no! Fathers like to have children good-natured, well-behaved, and comfortable, but how to put them in that desirable condition is out of their philosophy....Whether from nature, habit, or both, the mother is much more capable of administering to their health and comfort than the father and therefore she has the best right to them. And where there is property, it ought to be divided equally between them, with an additional provision from the father toward the maintenance and education of the children.
Much is said about the burdens and responsibilities of married men. Responsibilities indeed there are, if they but felt them: but as to burdens what are they?...I grant that owing to the present unjust and unequal reward for labor, many have to work too hard for a subsistence; but whatever his vocation, he has to attend (to his business) before as after marriage. Look at your bachelors, and see if they do not strive as much for wealth, and attend as steadily to business as married men. No! the husband has little or increase of burden, and every increase of comfort after marriage; while most of the burdens, cares, pains, and penalties of married life fall on the wife. How unjust and cruel then to have all the laws in his favor! If any difference should be made by law between husband and wife, reason, justice and humanity, if their voices were heard, would dictate that it should be in her favor.