To start my journey, I set out from where I’m staying, in Manhattan near where Chelsea and Flatiron neighborhoods meet, bound for the Lower East Side. That’s where newly married Ernestine and William Rose made their first home in New York City, at 484 Grand St near Willett, near the Williamsburg Bridge. The house is no longer standing, nor are any other nearby buildings from their time, except for the synagogue behind where it probably stood.
In fact, as I visited places associated with their lives over the course of four days, I found not a single building still standing that I could be sure Ernestine or Elizabeth set foot in. As I was to learn more throughout the course of my trip, New York has systematically pulled down and rebuilt itself over and over again through the centuries, with its restless culture of self-reinvention, innovation, and progress, until a movement in the 1960’s arose and reminded New York that its history was important too. But that’s another (fascinating) story, which I’ll return to later.
Despite the lack of extant sites, seeking them out led to me to discover not only more about the lives and times of Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but more about how they influenced others, more about other people doing great work for the same or related causes, and more about New York City’s history. I also learned more about other movements, not only political and ideological but of people: migrations of those seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children when their homeland had less to offer. In visiting this first site, for example, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of fascinating parallels between the builders and inhabitants of the current structures, and the lives and philosophies of Ernestine and Elizabeth.
The Abron Arts Center, adjacent to the Harry De Jur playhouse now stands near the probable original site of the Roses’ first New York home. The Center is one of the buildings that comprise the Henry Street Settlement, founded by Lillian Wald. She, like Ernestine Rose herself, was a human rights activist of Jewish descent. She was also a dedicated and tireless humanitarian: Henry Street Settlement provides health care and educational and recreational services for underserved communities.
In both Ernestine Rose and Lilian Wald’s days, the Lower East Side was crowded with immigrants who, lacking opportunities in their native countries, flocked to New York City’s factories to seek jobs and a chance at a better life. From the early 1800’s onwards, NYC was an industrial powerhouse, with many of its entrepreneurs and investors amassing great wealth, while the greater number suffered the worst effects of an industrial city before the age of reform and regulation: overcrowding, disease, grinding poverty, and crime. Between the time Ernestine and Lilian arrived in the lower east side, conditions had become quite dire; Henry Street Settlement was founded as a solution to many of these social problems. No doubt, Ernestine, a radical egalitarian and human rights advocate, would have approved of the building that stood on the site of her old home, and of its founder’s mission.
(Note: in visiting another Ernestine Rose site the next day, coincidentally, I had the opportunity to learn more about H.S.S. and its founder, Lilian Wald. Stay tuned!)
Bialystoker Synagogue, coincidentally or not, was organized by Polish Jews in 1865, who purchased the former church as its new and permanent home. Ernestine was a Polish Jew by birth, and while she was quite open about the fact that she rejected the religion of her youth, she also very much identified with many aspects of her Jewish heritage. Her excellent education was, at least in large part, a result of her father’s being a rabbi and her consequent desire to learn ancient Hebrew, history, and the arts of theological and textual discussion. She also defended the Jewish community vigorously when they became the target of anti-Semitic attacks in the Boston Investigator newspaper (Dorress-Worters pp 42-44, 311-333). The synagogue also operated as a stop on the Underground Railroad; Ernestine was an ardent and committed abolitionist. Another coincidence, perhaps!
‘On January 8, 1868, in a room on the fourth floor of 37 Park Row in downtown Manhattan, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the first issue of Revolution, a newspaper dedicated to advancing the cause of women’s suffrage, among other social reform issues. Although the newspaper survived in its original form for just slightly over two years, it helped gain public exposure for the women’s suffrage movement and for Anthony and Stanton, two of the movement’s most influential leaders‘. (Scanlon, pp. 1)
Elizabeth and Susan established their own feminist newspaper, The Revolution, after the split in the women’s rights movement over the 15th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to men of all races while, for the first time, specifically excluding women as it used the word ‘male’. Because they felt betrayed by the majority of the men, and many of the women, in the movement for giving up the fight for universal suffrage so easily (as they saw it), Elizabeth and Susan felt that the movement must now be run exclusively by women, for women, in order to retain the revolutionary spirit and singleness of purpose necessary to accomplish their key goal. Every contributor to the paper was a woman, as well as every single employee of the paper.
37 Park Row also no longer exists; I write my search notes in the Starbucks at 38 Park Row, across from City Hall Park. The street sign on the corner of the park dedicated to these ladies is directly across the street, and since it’s the corresponding even number across, the sign probably stands near or at the actual site where the newspaper was published. Here’s an illustration from 1868, which shows the original buildings comprising Printing House Square, where so many of New York’s major periodicals were produced:
Thus ends my first day following in Ernestine and Elizabeth’s footsteps in New York City.
To be continued…
Sources and Inspiration:
‘Bialystoker Synagogue: History’. http://www.bialystoker.org/history.htm
Brawarsky, Sandee. ‘Safe Havens on the Freedom Line.’ New York Times. January 19, 2001.
Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7).
Cooperative Village: History. (website) http://coopvillage.coop/history.php
Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Cady_Stanton
‘Elizabeth Cady Stanton Dies At Her Home.’ On This Day, New York Times. Oct 7th, 1902.
Ernestine Rose. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive.
Kolmerten, Carol. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999.
Lillian Wald. (2014, September 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, volumes 1 and 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887
‘Tenements’. History.com. Staff. (2014, Nov. 5th.)