Throughout the early 20th century, Rose Pastor Stokes was an extremely controversial and widely publicized socialist and communist. She was born to Jewish parents, Jacob and Anna Wieslander, on 18 July 1879 in Russian Poland. After her parents' separation in 1882, her mother relocated in London's East Side and married a cigar maker named Israel Pastor, whose surname Rose took. Rose attended the Bell Lane Free School for only two years and then assisted her mother in making satin bows for slippers.
In 1890, the Pastors came to America and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. Because of the economic plight of her family Rose went to work, in a cigar factory. In July 1901, Rose responded to an advertisement in the Jewish Daily News requesting information from factory workers. The newspaper not only published her story, but Rose was invited to become a regular contributor. After her family moved to New York City in 1903, Rose worked as an assistant to the editor of the Jewish Daily News. Her responsibilities in this position included writing an advice column to young women in the newspaper's English section, writing sketches and human interest features about the East Side of New York, and submitting short verses and editorials.
In July 1903, Rose was sent to interview James Graham Phelps Stokes, a wealthy resident of the University Settlement House. Impressed by his dedication to socialism and reform, Rose became a close friend of Stokes and eventually the friendship turned to love. The couple married on July 18th 1905 and, after a European honeymoon, they rented an apartment near the University Settlement.
Although initially committed to settlement work, the Stokes' gradually turned their attention to socialist endeavors. In September 1905, James helped form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, an organization dedicated to promoting the study of socialism among college students and faculty members. During the following year, James and Rose became members of the Socialist Party and worked diligently for various socialist activities and causes.
By 1912, James began to devote less of his time to socialism and more to research and writing. Rose, on the other hand, began to emerge as an effective socialist and labor leader. In May and June of 1912, Rose helped to lead a strike by the New York City restaurant and hotel workers and, in the winter of 1913, she aided the New York garment workers in their bitter strike. During this period, Rose also began to devote considerable time to writing proletarian plays and poetry. In 1916, she wrote The Women Who Wouldn't which was a play about the rise of a woman labor leader. Rose also contributed numerous poems and articles to such publications as The Masses, Independent, and Century.
Rose's artistic accomplishments did not detract from her social crusades. Foremost among Rose's causes at this time was her campaign in 1915 and 1916 to overturn the conviction of a labor leader, Patrick Quinlan, who had been arrested for his participation in the Paterson silk workers strike. Eventually, Rose and her supporters were able to overturn Quinlan's conviction. Another cause which occupied a considerable amount of Rose's time was the fight to distribute birth control information. While engaged in this campaign, Rose organized meetings for Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman, both of whom were frequently arrested for lecturing on contraception.
When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Rose and James were among those who withdrew from the Socialist Party because of its anti-war position. For James the separation from the Socialist Party was permanent, but Rose changed her mind after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and was readmitted to the party in February 1918. In March 1918, Rose was indicted under the Espionage Act for making the following statement to the Kansas City Women's Dining Club: "No government which is for the profiteers can be also for the people, and I am for the people, while the government is for the profiteers." On 1 June 1918, Rose was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in the Missouri State Penitentiary. In March 1920, an appeals court reversed her conviction and, in November 1921, the case was dismissed.
While her case was still pending in the courts, Rose became involved in the Socialist Party's "Left Wing Caucus" disputes. Obviously sympathetic with the left wing of the Michigan branch and the foreign language locals, Rose withdrew from the Socialist Party for the second time and became a founding member of the Communist Party. In 1922, Rose traveled to Moscow as an American delegate to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International. During these proceedings, Rose served as the reporter for the special Negro Commission. Upon her return to the United States, Rose was elected to serve on the Executive Committee of the newly formed Workers' Party. It was at this time that Rose adopted the pseudonym "Sasha".
Rose's marriage was jeopardized as a result of her activities with the communists. On 17 October 1925, James was granted an interlocutory decree of divorce, thus setting the two political opponents free to pursue their own careers. Two years later, Rose married Jerome Isaac Romaine (also known as Victor J. Jerome), a language teacher and an active communist. Following the marriage, Rose retained the name of Stokes and continued her controversial activities with the Communist Party. In 1930, Rose learned that she had cancer and thus retired to Westport, Connecticut. Upon learning about Rose's physical condition, many of her communist friends raised funds to send her to Europe for medical treatment. While being treated for the disease in a Frankfurt am Main municipal hospital, Rose Pastor Stokes died on 20 June 1933.