Preacher, abolitionist, and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek, Michigan on November 26, 1883. The date of Truth’s birth is uncertain, but around 1797 she was born a slave called “Isabella” in Ulster, New York. Bought and sold four times, she escaped slavery in 1826 when her owner failed to fulfill his promise to free her before the date mandated by New York law.
But we’ll have our rights; see if we don’t: and you can’t stop us from them; see if you can. You may hiss as much as you like, but it is comin’.
Sojourner Truth, Address to the Woman’s Rights Convention, Broadway Tabernacle, New York, September 7, 1853. Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Convention. Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921
Nearly twenty years later, she shed the name, Isabella Van Wagener, and adopted the moniker Sojourner Truth. A prophet and sojourning minister, she spoke out against sin and slavery. Encouraged by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she added the cause of women’s rights to her agenda. Today, Truth is most famous for her speech “Ain’t I A Woman.” She attacked the idea of the “weaker sex” reportedly saying,
I have plowed, I have planted and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much, and eat as much as man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?
Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I A Woman,” Address to 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
When the Civil War began, Truth organized supplies for black volunteer troops. In 1864, President Lincoln received her at the White House. That same year, she advised former slaves on behalf of the National Freedmen’s Relief Association. She continued to offer advice in the 1870s, encouraging African Americans to migrate to the western states of Kansas and Missouri.
Truth managed to reunite with most of her children. Three daughters joined her in Battle Creek, Michigan where she settled in the 1850s. When she died at age eighty-six, her funeral at the Congregational Church was thought to be the largest ever seen in that city.
- Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921, a collection of papers from the National American Woman Suffrage Association, contains the text of two Truth speeches: an 1853 address to the Woman’s Rights Convention at the Broadway Tabernacle Church in New York; and, an 1867 address to the first anniversary meeting of the American Equal Rights Association. One Hundred Years toward Suffrage provides an introduction to this collection and to the women’s movement.
- Find more material documenting the struggle to end slavery. Search the collection African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907 on abolition.
- Read Today in History features on the Amistad Mutiny and abolitionists Eli Parrish Lovejoy, Lucretia Mott, and John Brown.