Rose Wieslander, the daughter of Jacob and Anna Wieslander, was born in Russia on 18th July 1879. When the marriage broke down, Anna brought Rose to the East End of London. Soon afterwards, Anna married Israel Pastor.
Rose Pastor attended Bell Lane Free School before finding work in a Whitechapel factory. In 1891 the family emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. Rose worked in a factory making cigars but in 1903 she moved to New York City where she contributed articles to the Jewish Daily News.
In 1903 she interviewed James Phelps Stokes, the New York millionaire who at that time a supporter of the University Settlement on the Lower East Side. Rose Pastor was very impressed with what Stokes had to say and became a volunteer worker at the settlement. The couple were married in July 1905 and moved to a house in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Later that year the couple joined the Socialist Party of America. Other members included Eugene Debs, Victor Berger, Ella Reeve Bloor, Emil Seidel, Daniel De Leon, Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, William Z. Foster, Abraham Cahan, Sidney Hillman, Morris Hillquit, Walter Reuther, Bill Haywood, Margaret Sanger, Florence Kelley, Mary White Ovington, Helen Keller, Inez Milholland, Floyd Dell, William Du Bois, Hubert Harrison, Upton Sinclair, Agnes Smedley, Victor Berger, Robert Hunter, George Herron, Kate Richards O'Hare, Helen Keller, Claude McKay, Sinclair Lewis, Daniel Hoan, Frank Zeidler, Max Eastman, Bayard Rustin, James Larkin, William Walling and Jack London.
In September 1905, Rose Pastor Stokes and James Phelps Stokes joined with Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Clarence Darrow and Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. The main objective of the organization was to encourage study and discussion of socialism in colleges. Rose continued work as a journalist and was a regular contributor to the The Masses and The Call.
Although Rose Pastor Stokes was now extremely wealthy she remained a committed socialist. As Eugene Debs pointed out: "She had her millions of dollars at command. Did her wealth restrain her an instant? On the contrary her supreme devotion to the cause outweighed all considerations of a financial or social nature. She went out boldly to plead the cause of the working class."
On the outbreak of the First World War most socialists in the United States were opposed to the conflict. They argued that the war had been caused by the imperialist competitive system and argued that the America should remain neutral. This was also the view expressed in the three main socialist journals, Appeal to Reason, The Masses and The Call.
Rose Pastor Stokes was also involved in the struggle to keep the United States out of the war. James Phelps Stokes disagreed with her on this issue and was a major factor in the break-up of the marriage. In 1917 Rose was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act. She was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison for saying, in a letter to the Kansas City Star, that "no government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers."
At the end of the First World War Rose Pastor Stokes was released from prison. Her experiences moved her to the revolutionary left. The right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party of America opposed the Russian Revolution. On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported the Soviet government. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled.
Some of these people, including Rose Pastor Stokes, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ella Reeve Bloor, Claude McKay, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the American Communist Party. By September 1919 it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
James Phelps Stokes did not share his wife's communist beliefs. Rose suggested they had become "friendly enemies". In 1925 her husband brought a petition for divorce on grounds of misconduct. He won a decree and four years later married a Greenwich Village teacher, Issac Romain.
In 1929 Rose was seriously injured when clubbed by police at a demonstration demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Haiti. According to a report in the Daily Chronicle Rose "was struck while attempting to protect a young boy from a policeman".