Women Who Wow Us: Sojourner Truth

Pencil on paper by Charles White-1940

Sojourner Truth was not always the outspoken woman we often hear about. You have probably heard of her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” You may even know that she dictated her own memoirs.
Do you know how she got there, though? I am so excited to share with you the story of Sojourner Truth, and how she became a woman who wows us!

She was born Isabella Baumfree, in New York, at the very end of the 18th century.  Her parents were both slaves and her family only spoke Dutch,  because of where in New York they were. She was one of around 12 children. Slave births often weren’t recorded and because of that, much of this is not sure.
When Truth was 9 years old her owner died and she was sold to a new master. He was a cruel and violent master and “Belle” was sold twice more in the next 3 years. During this time, she learned how to speak English.
When Truth was 18, she fell in love with a slave from a nearby farm. They had a daughter, who, by law, belonged to Truth’s owner. Because of this, her lover’s owner forbade the relationship and she never saw him again later.
Shortly after, her owner married her to an older slave and they had several more children.
In 1826, just a year before slavery was abolished in New York, Truth ran away, taking her infant daughter,  but leaving her older children behind. After she left,  her son,  Peter,  who was only 5, was illegally sold to a slaver in Alabama.
When she found out,  she took the slaver to court.  She was one of the very first black women to take a white man to court, and she won, freeing her son. Peter and her converted to Christianity,  moved to the city,  and she worked as a housekeeper for a Christian evangelist named Peirson. After some time,  she switched households to work for a man known as Prophet Mathias, who had a reputation as a con man. When Peirson died suddenly, both Mathias and Truth were implicated in the death,  but charges were dropped and Truth sued for slammer and won!
In 1843, Sojourner Truth officially changed her name and started dedicating her life to abolition, women’s rights,  and pacifism.  She lived on a self sufficient commune with other like minded people. The community was disbanded, but Truth’s career was only beginning.  In 1850, she dictated to a friend her memoir, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. That same year she attended the first women’s rights convention and spoke there.
Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Came the next year, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Sojourner Truth advocated for equal rights to all women, at a time when most suffrages were concerned with white women’s rights, most abolitionists were concerned with black men rights, and black women were often left out of the conversation all together.
After the success of her Akron speech, Truth traveled and spoke about equal rights and abolitionism all around Ohio. She gathered larger crowds each time, and even was able to sit down with President Abraham Lincoln and talk about her life and beliefs.
Well into her old age, Truth continued advocating for equal rights and abolitionism. She also spoke for prison reform, federal land grants for former slaves, and pacifism before passing away in 1833. She continues to be remembered everywhere, though, as a woman who wows us!


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