Rose Pastor Stokes

Rose Pastor Stokes

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."

Eugene Debs, Max Eastman and Rose Pastor Stokes
Eugene Debs, Max Eastman and Rose Pastor Stokes

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".

Rose Pastor Stokes developed breast cancer in 1932. She moved to Germany to have radiation therapy but died in Frankfurt on 20th June, 1933.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Eugene Debs, speech in Canton, Ohio (16th June 1918)

Rose Pastor Stokes! And when I mention her name I take off my hat. Here we have another heroic and inspiring comrade. 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 and they rewarded her high courage with a ten years' sentence to the penitentiary. Think of it! Ten years! What atrocious crime had she committed? What frightful things had she said? Let me answer candidly. She said nothing more than I have said here this afternoon. I want to admit - I want to admit without reservation that if Rose Pastor Stokes is guilty of crime, so am I. If she is guilty for the brave part she has taken in this testing time of human souls I would not be cowardly enough to plead my innocence. And if she ought to be sent to the penitentiary for ten years, so ought I without a doubt.

What did Rose Pastor Stokes say? Why, she said that a government could not at the same time serve both the profiteers and the victims of the profiteers. Is it not true? Certainly it is and no one can successfully dispute it. Roosevelt said a thousand times more in the very same paper, the Kansas City Star. Roosevelt said vauntingly the other day that he would be heard if he went to jail. He knows very well that he is taking no risk of going to jail. He is shrewdly laying his wires for the Republican nomination in 1920 and he is an adept in making the appeal of the demagogue.

Rose Pastor Stokes never uttered a word she did not have a legal, constitutional right to utter. But her message to the people, the message that stirred their thoughts and opened their eyes - that must be suppressed; her voice must be silenced. And so she was promptly subjected to a mock trial and sentenced to the penitentiary for ten years. Her conviction was a foregone conclusion. The trial of a Socialist in a capitalist court is at best a farcical affair. What ghost of a chance had she in a court with a packed jury and a corporation tool on the bench? Not the least in the world. And so she goes to the penitentiary for ten years if they carry out their brutal and disgraceful graceful program. For my part I do not think they will. In fact I feel sure they will not. If the war were over tomorrow the prison doors would open to our people. They simply mean to silence the voice of protest during the war.

(2) Daily Chronicle (21st June, 1933)

Two women of world-wide fame died yesterday - Rose Pastor Stokes (Rose of the Ghetto) and Clara Zetkin (Red Clara).

Friends of Mrs. Rose Pastor Stokes asserted here today that her death was due to blows from a policeman's truncheon received in this city a few years ago during a demonstration against the occupation of Haiti by American Marines. "Rose of the Ghetto" was struck while attempting to protect a young boy from a policeman".

The daughter of poor Russian immigrants who married the New York millionaire, Phelps Stokes, was a Communist at the time of her death. Before going to New York, Rose's family lived in the East End of London, arriving from Russia with when Rose was seven. She worked as a cigarette-maker in a Whitechapel factory, often being reduced to the greatest poverty and semi-starvation.