Rose was born in Middleton Creek, Victoria; her father was Polish and her mother Irish. In 1886 she married Henry Lewis Summerfield, they moved to Waverly in Sydney and had one son in 1887. Summerfields political activities began in 1886 when she joined in Australasian Secularist Association, her interests included socialism, temperance and women's rights. In the early 1890s she began writing political pieces for the Democrat, the Liberator, the Northern People, the Hummer and its successor, the Worker (Sydney). By 1892 she was the most prominent organiser of working women in Sydney and in August of that year established a women's division of the Australian Workers' Union.
On 17 July 1892 she delivered her most famous lecture to a Sunday evening meeting of the Australian Socialist League at Leigh House. In Master and Man, which she also called 'the gospel of discontent' she described the place of the employer and workers under colonial capitalism, and how that would change is rights were afforded to workers. The piece has been described as an expression of narrative identity, identifying her subjective sense of self and alienation with the injustice inflected upon women and the working class. Like many other radical writings at the time it was also racist portraying non-white people as a threat to the white working class.
Rose also became involved with the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales, establishing a branch in Waverly and served on its council between 1893 and 1894. She was also active in the temperance cause.
Her first husband, Henry died in 1890. In 1897 she married for a second time, her second husband John Cadogan was a cook and mine manager; they had four children together. By this time she has become disillusioned with Australian workers and labour politics, and she resigned from the Australian Socialist League. She and her husband left Australian for the utopian socialist settlement New Australia, that had been founded in Paraguay by William Lane, where she gave birth in 1899 to León Cadogan, who later became a Paraguayan ethnologist who made significant contributions to the study of Guaraní language and culture, and is considered as one of the most important ethnologists of Paraguay.
By 1901 she was dissatisfied with New Australia, in 1908 she and John moved to nearby Yataity and ran a store. She wanted to return to Australia, her planned return until 1920 was called off when they Cadogans lost their savings in a bank failure. She died from cancer in Villa Rica, Paraguay in 1922 and was buried in the Las Ovejas cemetery at New Australia.
- Summerfield, Rose - Biographical entry - Reason in Revolt
- Hearn, M. Summerfield, Rose Anna (1864 - 1922), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp 373-374.
- Hearn, M. 2004. Rose Summerfield's Gospel of Discontent : a Narrative of Radical Identity in Late Nineteenth Century Australia. Labour History 87:65-82