Bon­nie S. Ander­son is the author of The Rab­bi’s Athe­ist Daugh­ter: Ernes­tine Rose, Inter­na­tion­al Fem­i­nist Pio­neer, a biog­ra­phy of the queen of the plat­form” for women’s rights, free thought, and abo­li­tion in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. In response to cur­rent events in the Unit­ed States, Bon­nie is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

The health­i­est way I coped with the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump was to write blog entries about Ernes­tine Rose, the sub­ject of my recent biog­ra­phy. Rose, who lived from 1810 to 1892, spent her career com­bat­ting society’s inequities. She per­se­vered for decades to imple­ment her ideals.

A few months after she arrived in New York City in 1836, she knocked on doors in low­er Man­hat­tan, try­ing to get sig­na­tures on a peti­tion for mar­ried women’s prop­er­ty rights. Legal doc­trine then main­tained that hus­band and wife are one per­son and that per­son is the hus­band.” Sin­gle women could own prop­er­ty, but any­thing a mar­ried woman pos­sessed or earned, from a salary to a pock­et­book, belonged to her hus­band. At first, Rose gath­ered only one sig­na­ture a month. Some of the ladies said the gen­tle­men would laugh at them,” she remem­bered, Oth­ers, that they had rights enough; and the men said the women had too many rights already.” Rely­ing on her own beloved husband’s sup­port, she per­sist­ed. She addressed the state leg­is­la­ture in Albany five times on this sub­ject in the 1840s and found allies to work with her. In 1848, the state of New York gave women in future mar­riages the right to own prop­er­ty, but not their earn­ings. This was not much, to be sure,” Rose lat­er remarked, for at best it was only for the favored few, and not for the suf­fer­ing many. But it was a begin­ning, and an impor­tant step.”

Ernes­tine Rose and oth­ers labored on. Final­ly, four­teen years after she start­ed this cam­paign, New York gave mar­ried women com­plete prop­er­ty rights. Rose cel­e­brat­ed the vic­to­ry in a pub­lic letter:

How has all this been achieved? The answer is, by agi­ta­tion — con­ven­tions and pub­lic lec­tures to enlight­en woman on the laws which oppressed her — to enlight­en men on the injus­tice he per­pe­trat­ed against her….Agitate! agi­tate! Ought to be the mot­to of every reformer. Agi­ta­tion is the oppo­site of stag­na­tion — the one is life, the oth­er, death.

Rose did not con­fine her­self to prop­er­ty rights. She worked for women’s right to vote, for their abil­i­ty to hold jobs and posi­tions con­fined to men, for their right to equal edu­ca­tion. But women’s rights were only one of her three chief caus­es. She labored equal­ly hard for free thought and anti-slavery.

The only one of these three caus­es she lived to see achieved was the end of for­mal slav­ery in the Unit­ed States. By the time she died at 82, women still did not pos­sess the vote in any nation and athe­ists like her­self remained dis­crim­i­nat­ed against. But she nev­er gave up and even in old age and ill­ness con­tin­ued to cham­pi­on her beliefs.

If she were alive today, I know she would have been at the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton this past week­end to protest Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion. In many ways, Ernes­tine Rose’s val­ues are the oppo­site of Don­ald Trump’s. She set out on her own at 17 years old, not prof­it­ing from her father’s busi­ness as he did. She con­sis­tent­ly believed that all peo­ple, black and white, men and women,” were equal and so should have equal rights; by con­trast, Trump and his father refused to rent their prop­er­ties to black peo­ple into the 1970s. Rose defend­ed pros­ti­tutes as vic­tims of male desire; Trump has jus­ti­fied men’s sex­u­al attacks on women. Near the end of her life, Rose argued that all peo­ple — the Chris­t­ian, the Mahomatan, the Jew, the Deist, and the Athe­ist” — can reform the laws so as to have per­fect free­dom of con­science, the right to think and express our thoughts on all sub­jects.” Trump’s cam­paign den­i­grat­ed Mus­lims, Mex­i­cans, immi­grants, and dis­abled people.

So no mat­ter how dis­heart­ened you may feel by his recent elec­tion, I urge every­one to bat­tle on. Don’t mourn, orga­nize! Let the Women’s March be the first of many events cham­pi­oning our val­ues and ideals. Fol­low Rose’s hero­ic exam­ple and agi­tate, agi­tate! It is the only way to change the world.

Bon­nie S. Ander­son taught his­to­ry and wom­en’s stud­ies at Brook­lyn Col­lege and the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York for over thir­ty years. A pio­neer in the field of wom­en’s his­to­ry, Ander­son lec­tures through­out Europe and the Unit­ed States on women’s move­ments, inter­na­tion­al fem­i­nism, the his­to­ry of sex­u­al­i­ty, and women’s issues today. The Rab­bi’s Athe­ist Daugh­ter: Ernes­tine Rose, Inter­na­tion­al Fem­i­nist Pio­neer is her fourth book.