By Caitlin Reeves
Graduate student, Simmons College
Rosa H. Heinzen was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 7, 1884. Her paternal grandfather, Karl Heinzen, was a journalist whose revolutionary views forced his family to emigrate to the United States. Her maternal grandfather, Louis Prang, was a notable lithographer known as the creator of the American Christmas card. Louis Prang and Karl Heinzen became friends in Boston, and in 1875 their children, Karl Heinzen and Rosa Prang, were married. When the couple’s daughter Rosa was born, Grandfather Heinzen delivered an address encouraging her to love truth and the intellectual life and to defend the rights of her sex. The family helped start young Rosa along that path, sending her to Miss Peabody’s School in Boston to begin her education.
Heinzen came into her own as a revolutionary after graduating from Radcliffe College in 1907. She went to New York and worked as a secretary for the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor in Brooklyn. In 1909 she was elected Secretary of the College Equal Suffrage League, of which Maud Wood Park was President. Throughout the early years of the movement, she participated in open-air meetings and distributed flyers; in 1910 she spoke at the Women’s Suffrage Festival in Boston. During this time, she also worked as a teacher and an interpreter at the Quincy Evening School. In 1913, at the age of 29, she married George E. Roewer, a well-known socialist and attorney in Boston.
Roewer proved her steadfast loyalty to the women’s suffrage movement in February 1919, when she was arrested at the State House while participating in a Boston demonstration by the National Woman’s Party. The NWP was pressuring President Wilson to secure the last Senate votes to pass what would become the 19th Amendment. Roewer was charged with violating a city ordinance for loitering more than seven minutes, and was sentenced to 10 days in Boston’s Charles St. Jail. While imprisoned, she continued to fight for the cause by going on a hunger strike with fifteen other suffragists. Her sentence was cut short when James B. Thayer paid her fine without her consent. Her husband George also demonstrated allegiance to the feminist cause throughout the suffrage campaign. In 1931, in collaboration with the National Woman’s Party, Roewer helped bring a test case to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts in favor of admitting women to juries. At the time, women were denied admittance to juries because they did not qualify as persons under Massachusetts state law.
After the suffrage amendment passed, Roewer continued to participate in organizations such as the Cambridge League of Women Voters, the Boston branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s Industrial Union, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She died on November 9th, 1973 at the age of 89 in Gloucester, MA, and was buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, MA.
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