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Sojourner Truth (originally named Isabella Baumfree), was born a slave in Ulster County, New York State, in about 1797. At the age of nine she was auctioned off to an Englishman named John Nealey. Over the next few years she was owned by a fisherman in Kingston and then by John Dumont, a plantation owner from New York County. Between 1810 and 1827 she had five children with a fellow slave. She was dismayed when one of her sons was sold to a plantation owner in Alabama.
After New York State abolished slavery in 1827, Quaker friends helped her win back her son through the courts. She moved to New York City and obtained worked as a servant. She became friends with Elijah Pierson, a religious missionary, and eventually moved into his home.
In 1843 Isabella took the name Sojourner Truth. With the help of a white friend, Olive Gilbert, she published her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. In an introduction to the book, William Lloyd Garrison wrote that he believed it would "stimulate renewed efforts to liberate all those still in slavery in America".
Over the next few years Truth toured the country making speeches on slavery. After meeting Lucretia Mott, she also spoke at meetings in favour of woman's suffrage. When a white man told her that her speeches were no more important than a fleabite, she replied, "Maybe not, but the Lord willing, I'll keep you scratching."
At the beginning of the American Civil War, she helped recruit black men to help the war effort. In 1864 she moved to Washington where she organised a campaign against the policy of not allowing blacks to sit with whites on trains. As a result of this, she was received in the White House by PresidentAbraham Lincoln. Sojourner Truth died at Battle Creek, Michigan, on 26th November, 1883.
The subject of this biography, Sojourner Truth, as she now calls herself, but whose name originally was Isabella, was the daughter of James and Betsey, slaves of one Colonel Ardinburgh, Hurley, Ulster County, New York. Sojourner does not know in what year she was born, but knows she was liberated under the act of 1817, which freed all slaves who were forty years old and upward. Ten thousand slaves were then set at liberty. Those under forty years of age were retained in servitude ten years longer, when all were emancipated.
At length, the never to be forgotten day of the terrible auction arrived, when the "slaves, horse, and the other cattle" of Charles Ardinburgh, deceased, were to be put under the hammer. Isabella was sold for the sum of one hundred dollars, to one John Nealey, of Ulster County, New York. She was now nine years of age, and her trials in life may be dated from this period.
During the winter her feet were badly frozen, for want of proper covering. They gave her plenty to eat, and also plenty of whippings. One Sunday morning, in particular, she was told to go to the barn; on going there, she found her master with a bundle of rods, prepared in the embers, and bound together with cords. When he had tied her hands together before her, she gave her the most cruel whipping she was tortured with. He whipped her till the flesh was deeply lacerated, and the blood streaming from her wounds - and the scars remain to the present day, to testify to the fact.
Several ministers attended the second day of the Woman's Rights Convention, and were not shy in voicing their opinion of man's superiority over women. One claimed "superior intellect", one spoke of the "manhood of Christ," and still another referred to the "sin of our first mother." Suddenly, Sojourner Truth rose from her seat in the corner of the church.
"For God's sake, Mrs. Gage, don't let her speak!" half a dozen women whispered loudly, fearing that their cause would be mixed up with Abolition.
Sojourner walked to the podium and slowly took off her sunbonnet. Her six-foot frame towered over the audience. She began to speak in her deep, resonant voice: "Well, children, where there is so much racket, there must be something out of kilter, I think between the Negroes of the South and the women of the North - all talking about rights - the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this talking about?"
I want women to have their rights. In the courts women have no right, no voice; nobody speaks for them. I wish woman to have her voice there among the pettifoggers. If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there.
I am above eighty years old; it is about time for me to be going. I have been forty years a slave and forty years free, and would be here forty years more to have equal rights for all. I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain. I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler; but men doing no more, got twice as much pay. We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much. I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked. What we want is a little money. You men know that you get as much again as women, when you write, or for what you do. When we get our rights, we shall not have to come to you for money, for then we shall have money enough in our own pockets; and maybe you will ask us for money. But help us now until we get it. It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this battle once fought we shall not be coming to you any more.
I am glad to see that men are getting their rights, but I want women to get theirs, and while the water is stirring I will step into the pool. Now that there is a great stir about colored men's getting their rights is the time for women to step in and have theirs. I am sometimes told that "Women ain't fit to vote. What, don't you know that a woman had seven devils in her: and do you suppose a woman is fit to rule the nation?" Seven devils ain't no account; a man had a legion in him. The devils didn't know where to go; and so they asked that they might go into the swine. They thought that was as good a place as they came out from. They didn't ask to go into the sheep - no, into the hog; that was the selfish beast; and man is so selfish that he has got women's rights and his own too, and yet he won't give women their rights. He keeps them all to himself.
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and 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 a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? (member of audience whispers, "intellect") That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
One of the most unique and interesting speeches of the Convention was made by Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave. It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience. Those only can appreciate it who saw her powerful form, her whole-souled, earnest gesture, and listened to her strong and truthful tones.
She came forward to the platform and addressing the President (Frances Gage) said with great simplicity: May I say a few words? Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded; I want to say a few words about this matter. I am for woman's rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now.
As for intellect, all I can say is, if woman have a pint and a man a quart - why can't she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much - for we won't take more than our pint will hold.
The poor men seem to be all in confusion and don't know what to do. Why children, if you have woman's rights give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and there won't be so much trouble.
Upon entering his reception room we found about a dozen persons in waiting, among them two coloured women. I had quite a pleasant time waiting until he was disengaged, and enjoyed his conversation with others; he showed as much kindness and consideration to the colored persons as to the white. One case was that of a colored woman who was sick and likely to be turned out of her house on account of her inability to pay her rent. The president listened to her with much attention, and spoke to her with kindness and tenderness.
He then congratulated me on my having been spared. Then I said, I appreciate you, for you are the best president who has ever taken the seat. He replied: "I expect you have reference to my having emancipated the slaves in my proclamation". But, said he, mentioning the names of several of his predecessors, "they were all just as good, and would have done just as I have done if the time had come."
Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Baumfree, who later changed her name to Sojourner Truth, would become one of the most powerful advocates for human rights in the nineteenth century. Her early childhood was spent on a New York estate owned by a Dutch American named Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh. Like other slaves, she experienced the miseries of being sold and was cruelly beaten and mistreated. Around 1815 she fell in love with a fellow slave named Robert, but they were forced apart by Robert’s master. Isabella was instead forced to marry a slave named Thomas, with whom she had five children.
In 1827, after her master failed to honor his promise to free her or to uphold the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, Isabella ran away, or, as she later informed her master, “I did not run away, I walked away by daylight….” After experiencing a religious conversion, Isabella became an itinerant preacher and in 1843 changed her name to Sojourner Truth. During this period she became involved in the growing antislavery movement, and by the 1850s she was involved in the woman’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?” She continued to speak out for the rights of African Americans and women during and after the Civil War. Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1883.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain't I A Woman?
Women's Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and 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 a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
But Wait! There is some controversy regarding Sojourner Truth's famous 'Ain't I a Woman?' Speech listed above. There are different versions of the speech. The popular 'Ain't I a Woman' Speech was first published by Frances Gage in 1863, 12 years after the speech itself. Another version was published a month after the speech was given in the Anti-Slavery Bugle by Rev. Marius Robinson. In Robinson's Version the phrase 'Ain't I a Woman' is not present.
Sojourner Truth was an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who escaped from slavery in New York in 1826. She began as an itinerant preacher and became a nationally known advocate for equality and justice, sponsoring a variety of social reforms, including women’s property rights, universal suffrage and prison reform.
She was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 on the estate of Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh in Swartekill, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, who were slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. Both the Baumfrees and the Hardenberghs spoke Dutch in their daily lives. After the colonel’s death, ownership of the Baumfrees passed to his son Charles.
After the death of Charles Hardenbergh in 1806, the Baumfrees were separated. Nine-year-old Isabella was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely, whose family only spoke English. Isabella still spoke only Dutch, and her new owners beat her repeatedly for not understanding their commands.
When her father came to visit, she pleaded with him to help her. Soon after, Martinus Schryver purchased her for $105. He owned a tavern, and although the atmosphere was crude and morally questionable, it was a safer haven for Isabella.
But a year and a half later, in 1810, Isabella was sold to John Dumont of New Paltz, New York. There she toiled for 17 years. Because of the cruel treatment she suffered at the hands of Dumont and his wife Sally, Isabella learned to speak English quickly, but had a Dutch accent for the rest of her life. It was during this time that she began to find refuge in religion – beginning the habit of praying aloud when scared or hurt.
Around 1815, at age 18 Isabella fell in love with Robert, a slave from a neighboring farm. The two had a daughter, Diana. Robert’s owner forbade the relationship, since Diana and any subsequent children produced by the union would be the property of John Dumont. His owner beat him savagely (“bruising and mangling his head and face”), bound him and dragged him away. Robert and Isabella never saw each other again.
In 1817, Dumont compelled Isabella to marry an older slave named Thomas. Their marriage produced a son, Peter (1822), and two daughters, Elizabeth (1825) and Sophia (1826). Isabella and her husband were promised their freedom for faithful service on July 4, 1826, one year before all adult slaves in New York would be freed by the state. Dumont reneged on his promise.
Free at Last
Isabella was infuriated when Dumont would not allow her to go free, but she continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him – spinning 100 pounds of wool. She then escaped before dawn with her infant daughter Sophia. She later said: “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”
Isabella wandered, not sure where she was going, and prayed for direction until she arrived at the home of white Methodists Isaac and Maria Van Wagener. Soon after, Dumont arrived, insisting she come back and threatening to take her baby when she refused. Isaac offered to buy her services for $20 until the state emancipation took effect, which Dumont accepted.
Soon thereafter Isabella learned that her five-year-old son Peter had been sold into slavery in Alabama. A friend directed her to activist Quakers, who helped her make an official complaint in court. After months of legal proceedings, Peter was returned to her, scarred and abused but alive. The case was one of the first in which a black woman successfully challenged a white man in a United States court.
During her time with the Van Wagenens, Isabella had a life-changing religious experience – becoming “overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence” and inspired to preach. She began attending the local Methodist church, and in 1829, left Ulster County with a white evangelical teacher named Miss Gear.
In 1829 Isabella moved to New York City, where she worked as a housekeeper for Christian evangelist Elijah Pierson and lived among a community of Methodist Perfectionists, who met outside of the church for ecstatic worship. Pierson treated her as a spiritual equal and encouraged her to preach.
Through the perfectionists, Isabella fell under the spell of Robert Matthews, also known as Prophet Matthias, for whom she also worked as a domestic. Matthews had a growing reputation as a con man, and Isabella lived with his cult from 1833 to 1834, with the activities becoming increasingly bizarre. Shortly after Isabella changed households, Elijah Pierson died, and Matthews and Isabella were accused of poisoning Pierson in order to benefit from his personal fortune. Both were acquitted.
While living in New York, Isabella attended the many camp meetings held around the city, and she quickly became known as a remarkable preacher whose influence “was miraculous.” In 1843, she was “called in spirit,” and the spirit instructed her to leave New York and travel east to lecture under the name Sojourner Truth. The name signified her role as an itinerant preacher, her preoccupation with truth and justice, and her mission to teach people “to embrace Jesus, and refrain from sin.”
In 1844, Sojourner Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. This group of 210 members lived on 500 acres of farmland, raising livestock, running grist and saw mills, and operating a silk factory. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported a broad range of reforms including women’s rights and pacifism. There she met and worked with leading abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles. Unfortunately, the community was not profitable enough to support itself.
Career in Social Reform
Although the Northampton community disbanded in 1846, Sojourner Truth’s career as an activist was just beginning. She then lived with George Benson, one of the Association’s founders. Since she could not read or write, Truth began dictating her memoirs to Olive Gilbert, another former member. In 1850, Benson’s cotton mill failed and he left Northampton. Truth bought a home there for $300.
Truth began touring with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of slavery and human rights. In 1850 William Lloyd Garrison published her memoirs, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, which detailed her suffering as a slave. It gave her an income and increased her speaking engagements, where she sold copies of the book.
Sojourner Truth traveled extensively as a lecturer after the publication of her book. Her speeches were based on her unique interpretation of the Bible – as a woman and a former slave. She spoke about women’s rights and the abolition of slavery, often giving personal testimony about her experiences as a slave. She was very tall, towering around six feet, and displayed a commanding presence.
Her preaching brought her into contact with abolitionists and women’s rights crusaders, and Truth became a powerful speaker on both subjects. In 1851, she gave a speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Covention in Akron, Ohio. This is an excerpt from that speech:
… that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
That same year, Sojourner Truth spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. As her reputation grew and the abolition movement gained momentum, she drew increasingly larger and more hospitable audiences. She was one of several escaped slaves, along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, to rise to prominence as an abolitionist leader and a testament to the humanity of enslaved people.
Truth toured Ohio from 1851 to 1853, working closely with Marius Robinson to publicize the antislavery movement in the state. Even in abolitionist circles, however, some of Truth’s opinions were considered radical. She sought political equality for all women and chastised the abolitionist community for failing to seek civil rights for black women as well as men. She openly expressed concern that the movement would fizzle after achieving victories for black men, leaving both white and black women without suffrage and other key rights.
Truth later became involved with the popular Spiritualism religious movement of the time, through a group called the Progressive Friends, an offshoot of the Quakers. The group believed in abolition, women’s rights, non-violence and communicating with spirits. In 1857, she sold her house in Northampton and bought a home in Harmonia, Michigan (just west of Battle Creek), to live with the Spiritual community.
Civil War Activism
Sojourner Truth put her reputation to work during the Civil War, supporting the Union and helping to recruit black troops for the Union Army. She encouraged her grandson James Caldwell to enlist in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first official African American units. The regiment gained recognition on July 18, 1863, when it led an assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina, where its commanding officer, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and 29 of his men were killed.
In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s article “The Libyan Sibyl,” a romanticized description of Sojourner Truth, appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. In 1864, Truth worked with the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington, DC. On at least one occasion, she met with President Abraham Lincoln. She also worked among freed slaves at a government refugee camp on an island in Virginia.
True to her broad reform ideals, Truth continued to agitate for change even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. She took up the issue of women’s suffrage. She was befriended by suffrage leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but disagreed with them on some issues, most notably Stanton’s threat that she would not support the black vote if women were denied it.
After the Civil War ended, she continued working to help the newly freed slaves through the Freedman’s Relief Association, then the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington. In 1867, she moved from Harmonia to Battle Creek, converting William Merritt’s “barn” into a house, for which he gave her the deed four years later.
Sojourner Truth Memorial
In Florence, Massachusetts
In 1870, Sojourner Truth began campaigning for the federal government to provide former slaves with land in the “new West.” In 1874, after touring with her grandson Sammy Banks, he fell ill and she developed ulcers on her leg. Sammy died after an operation. She was successfully treated by veterinarian Dr. Orville Guiteau, and headed off on speaking tours again, but had to return home due to illness once more.
The movement to secure land grants for former slaves became a major project of her later life. She argued that ownership of private property, and particularly land, would give African Americans self-sufficiency and free them from a kind of indentured servitude to wealthy landowners. Although Truth pursued this goal forcefully for seven years, she was unable to sway Congress.
The 1879 spontaneous exodus of tens of thousands of freedpeople from southern states to Kansas was the culmination of one of her most fervent prayers. She spent a year there helping refugees and speaking in white and black churches trying to gain support for the “Exodusters” as they tried to build new lives for themselves. Truth saw the Exodusters, fleeing violence and abuse in the Reconstruction South, as evidence that God had a plan for African Americans.
Truth continuted to make a few appearances around Michigan, speaking about temperance and the need for prison reform in Michigan and across the country. In July of 1883, troubled with ulcers on her legs again, she sought treatment through Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at his famous Battle Creek Sanitarium. It is said he grafted some of his own skin onto her leg.
Until old age intervened, Truth continued to speak passionately against social injustices. She was an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, testifying before the Michigan state legislature against the practice. She also championed prison reform in Michigan and across the country. While always controversial, Truth was embraced by a community of reformers including Amy Post, Wendell Phillips and Lucretia Mott – friends with whom she collaborated until the end of her life.
Sojourner Truth died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, on November 26, 1883. She was buried in Battle Creek’s Oak Hill Cemetery alongside to her grandson.
In 1890, Frances Titus, who had published the third edition of Sojourner Truth’s Narrative in 1875 and had served as her traveling companion after Sammy died, collected money and erected a monument at the gravesite, then commissioned artist Frank Courter to paint the meeting of Sojourner Truth and President Lincoln.
Sojourner House, named after the great African American preacher, Sojourner Truth, was founded in 1991 by a group of women from Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church . Twenty-six representatives from Pittsburgh’s social service agencies gathered to identify potential solutions to problems that affect women’s lives.
During this gathering, it was discovered that many women do not seek help for their addictions for fear they will lose their children and that there were far fewer rehabilitation programs for women than men. The consensus of the meeting was that drug and alcohol addicted mothers with their children were the group in greatest need and should be the prime target for significant aid.
The identified need was so urgent and challenging that these representatives agreed to serve as a provisional board of directors for the newly proposed project. Action Housing , Women’s Center and Shelter , Bethlehem Haven , Allegheny County Department of Welfare , and East End Cooperative Ministry were among the agencies and organizations represented.
Between 1991 and 1994, Sojourner House operated under the umbrella of East End Cooperative Ministry. In 1994, Sojourner House successfully applied for its own nonprofit status and became licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as a “women with children” residential rehabilitation facility.
Its goal is to help families to successfully continue their recovery journey, focusing on strengthening family relationships, promoting self-sufficiency, long term sobriety, and mental health stability.
With this in mind, Sojourner House created a sister project called Sojourner House MOMS (Motivation, Opportunities, Mentoring, and Spirituality). Incorporated in 2004, Sojourner House MOMS provides permanent, supportive housing to homeless, dual diagnosed mothers and their children. The award-winning MOMS project originated at the request of Negley Place Neighborhood Alliance (NPNA), a local grassroots organization. MOMS initiated as a partnership among Sojourner House, Inc., NPNA, and East Liberty Development, Inc. Sojourner House MOMS is based on the idea that with stable housing and appropriate services, women can maintain sobriety, achieve self-sufficiency, and build a stronger family life for their children.
The major successes of the program include the creation of individual apartments for 16 larger families in four buildings, scattered through the East Liberty neighborhood. The project was divided into two phases: Phase I, providing six three-bedroom units, opened in 2004, and Phase II, providing ten three- and four-bedroom units, opened in May of 2009. The four properties were run-down nuisance properties known for hosting drug dealing and prostitution, and were originally identified by NPNA because of their blighting effect on the entire community. NPNA’s vision to rebuild their neighborhood by turning these vacant properties into safe, supportive, drug-free, affordable housing has enhanced the neighborhood. In 2012, Sojourner House leased five additional apartments to bring the total to 21. Today, the apartment buildings are interspersed in a healthy, diverse neighborhood and have the full support of neighbors.
To further enhance the program, Sojourner House MOMS transformed two formerly vacant lots owned by the City of Pittsburgh into a viable, safe, and environmentally sustainable play yard called “MOMS Green.” This play yard is used by the families of the MOMS program as well as neighbors, encouraging interaction between program participants and the community. MOMS Green provides a safe, creative place for children to play and was built using re-purposed materials.
In April of 2012, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services asked Sojourner House MOMS to acquire two housing programs that had been operated by Primary Care Health Services. ACDHS chose Sojourner House MOMS for this request because of the program’s reputation for excellence, and because the addition of the properties aligned with the mission of MOMS. After of a year of due diligence through a board-led Ad Hoc Committee, the Boards of Sojourner House and Sojourner House MOMS voted to adopt the two buildings and their programs, Sankofa and Open Arms, and the transfer became effective in October of 2013. Over $1,200,000 in foundation and government funding was committed toward the effort to repair and upgrade these facilities. Together, the adopted programs provide an additional 21 units of supportive housing to women and their children experiencing homelessness.
In 2015, MOMS began supporting homeless fathers with children in addition to homeless mothers with children. The Sojourner House MOMS program consistently meets or exceeds the outcomes set by HUD for permanent housing by helping its families gain employment and/or increase their household income and achieve self-sufficiency. In 2018, MOMS created a second program, the Supportive Housing Program, which offers transitional housing and comprehensive support services to families in recovery for up to one year.
Our service philosophy is family-focused. We want to help a family to achieve its goals by providing safe and affordable housing, support services, necessary referrals for the family, and an atmosphere of community encouragement.
At a gathering of prominent clergymen and abolitionists at the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin , Stowe was informed that Sojourner Truth was downstairs and wanted to meet her.
"You's heerd o' me, I reckon?" the former slave asked Stowe when she came downstairs.
"Yes, I think I have. You go about lecturing, do you not?"
"Yes, honey, that's what I do. The Lord has made me a sign unto this nation, an' I go round a'testifyin' an' showin' on 'em their sins agin my people."
Fascinated by Truth's stories and demeanor, Stowe called down several of the more well-known ministers at the party. When asked if she preached from the Bible, Truth said no, because she couldn't read.
"When I preaches," she said, "I has just one text to preach from, an' I always preaches from this one. My text is, 'When I found Jesus.' "
"Well, you couldn't have found a better one," said one of the ministers.
In fact, Truth preached on more themes than that&mdashabolition and women's rights to name two&mdashand became one of the most celebrated and controversial itinerants of her era.
Out of slavery
Born a slave named Isabella Baumfree in southeastern New York, the future abolitionist had several owners during her childhood&mdashmany of them cruel&mdashbefore ending up the property of John Dumont at age 13. For 17 years, she worked for him and then escaped. She made her way to the home of Issac and Maria Van Wagener&mdashwhose home she said God showed her in a vision. The Quaker couple bought her from Dumont and then freed her.
U.S. Declaration of Independence
Robert Raikes begins his Sunday school
Death of Samuel Crowther, First Anglican African Bishop
A couple of years later, she had an experience that solidified her emerging faith. According to her dictated autobiography, one day "God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, 'in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over,' that he pervaded the universe, 'and that there was no place where God was not.'"
"I jes' walked round an' round in a dream," the former slave later told Stowe. "Jesus loved me! I knowed it, I felt it."
During her early years, though, her faith was confused, and at one point she joined a cult whose leader eventually murdered one of the members for another period, she followed the Millerites, who predicted Christ would return in 1843.
Wanting to make a fresh start, Isabella asked God for a new name. Again she had a vision&mdashGod renamed her Sojourner "because I was to travel up an' down the land, showin' the people their sins, an' bein' a sign unto them." She soon asked God for a second name, "'cause everybody else had two names and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people."
With this new mission, she left New York and traveled throughout New England, attending local prayer meetings and others she called on her own. In 1850 she published her autobiography, written with Olive Gilbert. It brought her fame, and with that fame came harassment. When she was once told the building she was to speak in would be burned if she preached, she replied, "Then I will speak to the ashes." Her quick wit and determination were only successful to a point. After being physically assaulted by one particularly vicious mob, she was forced to walk with a cane for the rest of her life.
It was against slavery that the former slave made her most virulent attacks. But she was also a woman, and once she met other female abolitionists, she became an avid supporter of women's rights as well. For many northerners, this was even more controversial than her abolitionist preaching. Some tried to stop her from speaking at a Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851&mdashthey feared it would weaken the abolitionist movement. But Truth spoke anyway, delivering her most famous speech:
By the end of the Civil War, Truth had met with Abraham Lincoln, had her arm dislocated by a racist streetcar conductor, petitioned the government to make western lands available to freed blacks, and made countless speeches on behalf of African Americans and women. In 1875, she retired to her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she remained until her death.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Early Life in Slavery. Isabella was born around 1797 on the estate of a Dutch patroon in Ulster County, New York, where her parents were slaves. Her first language was Dutch, and she would speak with an accent all her life. One of the formative events of her early childhood was witnessing her parents ’ grief over the loss of children who had been sold away. When she was nine Isabella herself was sold, and she was sold several more times in her early life. She worked from 1810 to 1827 in the household of John J. Dumont of New Paltz, New York. There she married a fellow slave named Thomas, with whom she had at least five children: two daughters and a son were sold away from her. When Dumont demanded that she serve another year after New York declared slavery illegal, Bomefree escaped. That year she also became a Christian her religious commitments, combined with a deep knowledge of the Bible, would influence her profoundly throughout her life. Isaac and Maria Van Wagener took her in, and she adopted their last name. With the help of Quaker friends she successfully sued her former owner for the return of her son Peter, who had been sold illegally to an Alabama planter.
Freedom and Faith. Around 1829 Isabella Van Wagener moved to New York City with her two youngest children, Peter and Sophia. She joined the Methodist Church and adopted the evangelistic, “ perfectionist ” religious beliefs that inspired her own mystical faith. Throughout her life she would hear voices and see visions. In New York she met Elijah Pierson, a wealthy and erratic social reformer whose primary work was with prostitutes, and joined Pierson and his wife in preaching in the streets. In the 1830s Van Wagener moved to a commune in Ossining, New York, remaining there for five years. She eventually returned to New York City, where she lived quietly and attended the African Zion Church, until 1843, when an inner voice told her to change her name to Sojourner Truth. She became an itinerant minister, traveling around the Connecticut River valley to preach, sing, pray, and evangelize at camp meetings, in churches, or wherever she could find shelter and an audience. Her message was that God was loving and perfect, and that human beings had nothing to fear from him. She said often that “ God is from everlasting to everlasting ” and that “ Truth burns up error. ” She believed that God was present everywhere and that all beings lived in him as “ fishes in the sea. ” In the winter of 1843 Sojourner Truth moved to the Northampton Industrial Association, another utopian community, where she lived until 1846. There she met important members of the abolitionist movement, including Frederick Douglass and George Benson, brother-in-law of the antislavery leader William Lloyd Garrison. As a result of this experience, abolitionism and women ’ s rights became important to Sojourner Truth and were always expressed in her preaching. She never compromised on the importance of these causes, disagreeing with abolitionists such as Douglass, who maintained that equality for women ought to be subordinated to the elimination of slavery.
Autobiography and Speeches. In 1850 Truth published her autobiography, ghostwritten by Olive Gilbert. She supported herself by selling The Narrative of Sojourner Truth at women ’ s rights meetings for twenty-five cents a copy. Truth ’ s “ Ar ’ n ’ t I a Woman? ” speech at the Akron Women ’ s Rights Convention in 1850 has gone down in history as one of the most significant expressions of the combined abolitionist and women ’ s rights movement. When Truth rose to speak she was severely heckled undaunted, she pointed out that as a female slave she had experienced the profound grief of having her own children sold away and had had to work like a man all her life she then asked, “ And ar ’ n ’ t I a woman? ” She left the stage to tumultuous applause. At a women ’ s rights convention in Indiana she responded to charges that she was a man posing as a woman by baring her breast to her accusers.
Civil War and Freedpeoples ’ Rights. In the mid 1850s Truth moved with her daughters to Battle Creek, Michigan, a center of religious and antislavery reform movements. There she joined a commune called Harmonia. During the Civil War she met President Abraham Lincoln and worked on freed slaves ’ relief projects such as the Freedmen ’ s Hospital and the Freedmen ’ s Village at Arlington Heights, Virginia. One of her grandsons served in the celebrated black regiment, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers. In an article that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly during the war the antislavery writer Harriet Beecher Stowe immortalized Truth as the “ Libyan Sybil ” the name would be associated with Truth for the rest of her life. After the war Truth worked tirelessly to assist former slaves in 1870 she sent a petition to Congress, signed by hundreds of supporters, pleading for the allocation of government lands in the West to former slaves. Although Congress took no action on the petition, her outspoken support of western migration inspired thousands of former slaves to establish homesteads in Kansas. She traveled throughout Kansas and Missouri, exhorting the former slaves to “ Be clean! for cleanliness is godliness. ” She also continued to speak to white audiences in the Northeast, preaching her message of a loving God and advocating temperance, woman suffrage, and equal rights for blacks.
Final Years. In the mid 1870s Truth ’ s autobiography was revised and republished. She continued to travel and speak on social reform issues such as temperance as long as she was able, and she received hundreds of visitors in Battle Creek until her death on 26 November 1883. Her funeral was said to have been the largest ever held in Battle Creek.
Childhood and Life Before Escape
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree, around 1797 (although the actual date is unknown), on the estate of Colonel Johannes Hardenbaugh, in Ulster County, New York. Her father was James Baumfree, a captured man from what is today known as Ghana. Her mother was the daughter of two slaves from modern-day Guinea.
In 1806, after Hardenbaugh and his son, Charles, had both died, she was sold at the age of 9, with a flock of sheep for the price of $100. John Neely bought her. He was cruel and unkind and beat her regularly. Over the next couple of years, Sojourner Truth was bought and sold several times. Eventually she was purchased by John Dumont, who lived in West Park, New York. When she was about 18, Sojourner Truth fell in love with a neighboring slave, named Robert however once his master found out, they were forbidden from seeing each other. In 1817 Dumont forced Truth to marry Thomas, an older slave, and they had three children together. New York put legislation in place to emancipate slaves by July 4, 1827. Dumont promised Truth that he would free her in 1826, but did not follow through. So she escaped, taking her infant daughter, Sophia, with her.
November 26, 1883
Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment with stories about the people and events that led to the passage of women’s suffrage in the United States.
Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree (sometimes written as Bomfree) in 1797, Truth was enslaved in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, New York, where she was bought and sold four times throughout her life. In 1827, she escaped with her daughter, Sophia after her master failed to uphold the recently-passed New York Anti-Slavery law, and Truth and her daughter were taken in by an abolitionist family who bought their freedom.
Soon after her escape, Truth sued for the freedom of her five-year-old son Peter, who had been sold illegally under the New York law and transported to Alabama. Truth won the case and secured the return of her son, making her among the first black women to successfully sue a white man in court.
Photo of Soujourner Truth. Caption on photo reads: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women all togedder ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up agin." Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Beginning in 1828, Truth lived in New York City where she joined in the religious revival movement that came to be known as the Second Great Awakening. She became a Christian and worked in a Methodist perfectionist commune which stressed the belief of the equality of all human beings.
Truth renamed herself on June 1, 1843 - the day of Pentecost, which commemorates the Holy Spirit filling Jesus’ disciples - and was christened “Sojourner Truth.”
Working as a traveling preacher, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, prominent members of the abolitionist movement. She also met suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony over the course of her travels. Later in life, however, Truth distanced herself from the mainstream suffrage movement because activists such as Anthony did not support granting the right to vote to African Americans.
Portrait of Sojourner Truth. Caption on portrait reads: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Truth rose to national prominence both for her speeches and published works. In 1850, she published her autobiography, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth,” which reached widespread acclaim and readership. In 1851, Truth embarked on a lecture tour that included a stop at the National Women’s Convention (the second of its kind) in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered what would become the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.
The speech is best known in its 1863 reproduction by a white abolitionist named Frances Dana Barker Gage, which introduced the line “Ain’t I a Woman?” (originally written as “Ar’n’t I a woman?”). However, this iteration was an extreme reworking of Truth’s original speech, with Gage changing most of Truth’s words and falsely attributing a southern slave dialect. The most authentic version of the speech was published soon after its delivery by Rev. Marius Robinson in the Anti-Slavery Bugle and does not include its famous titular line. From that original 1851 transcript:
“May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if women have a pint and man a quart - why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we can’t take more than our pint’ll hold.”
Portrait of Sojourner Truth. Caption on portrait says: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
In 1857, Truth moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where she helped escaped slaves cross to the North via the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War commenced, she worked to recruit African American men to fight in the Union Army and collected money and supplies for the troops. Among those who joined the cause was Truth’s grandson, James Caldwell, who was taken prisoner as a member of the Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and spent years in a few prisoner of war camps.
During the Civil War, she continued to lobby against segregation, and spent time in Washington, D.C. In 1864, following a violent incident she faced on a D.C. streetcar, Truth met with Abraham Lincoln to challenge the segregation of streetcars. She also counseled African American soldiers, taught former slaves domestic skills, and sought out jobs for African Americans who were left homeless and without jobs. In a letter written in February 1864, Truth commented on a visit to freedmen during the war: “It is good to live in it & behold the shackles fall from the manacled limbs. Oh if I were ten years younger I would go down with these soldiers here & be the Mother of the Regiment!”
The photograph shows African-American adults and children reading books in front of their barracks. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
In 1865, Truth accepted a position with the National Relief Association at Freedmen’s Village in Arlington Heights. Situated at the intersection between Columbia Pike and South Joyce Street, this stretch of land was a settlement for former slaves between 1863 and 1900. Here, Truth served as “counselor to the freed people,” and provided support at the Freedmen’s Bureau, where she collected provisions for patients in the Freedmen’s Hospital. Truth also advocated securing land grants from the government to former slaves, though these calls largely went unanswered by Congress.
Truth spent her final years in Michigan. She continued to speak on and advocate for the issues of women’s rights, universal suffrage, and prison reform until her death in 1883.
A symbol of the strength of African American women and a champion of the rights of all women, Sojourner Truth was an illiterate former slave named Isabella who transformed herself into a vastly powerful orator. Truth's magnetism brought her fame in her own time, and her story gives us a vivid picture of nineteenth-century life in the North, where blacks, enslaved or free, lived in relative isolation from one another. This volume contains the "Book of Life", including the "Ar'n't I a Woman" speech as well as "A Memorial Chapter" about her death. 264 pages, softcover.
Introduce your young readers to the true story of American hero Sojourner Truth. Following her life as a slave, she became one of the most respected and well-known speakers for both anti-slavery laws as well as women's rights. Bold illustrations and the fascinating story of her life is told in rich vocabulary and longer chapters for Level 3 proficient readers. 47 pages, softcover timeline included.
Beautifully illustrated, this biography picture book tells the amazing story of freed slave Sojourner Truth. Learn about her birth into slavery, being sold away from her parents at the age of 9, and her run for freedom. Discover the amazing stand that Sojourner Truth took as she campaigned for equal rights for black people and women. Featuring excerpts from her famous 'Ain't I a woman?' speech Recommended for ages 5-9.
Read and learn about an important historical figure in American history with Who Was Sojourner Truth? by Yona McDonough. A slave, an abolitionist, and devoted Christian, and an early advocate of women's rights, Sojourner Truth is a worthy addition to the Who Was. . . ? series. Recommended for ages 8 to 12 years.
Discover the life story of one of American history's most imporant orators & freedom fighters.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery 1797, and what she would learn and do during her lifetime would change the country. She was one of the first African-American women in the United States to win a lawsuit against a white man. She traveled the country speaking out against slavery and racist injustice, and for her efforts she met and talked with two different presidents. Introduce young readers to a remarkable story of a woman who always believed there was more work to be done. 32 pages, softcover. Grades Prek-2.
Book Five in the Gutsy Girls: Strong Christian Women Who Impacted the World series introduces readers to Sojourner Truth, a champion for African Americans, women, and the Gospel.
Sojourner, a former slave who was never taught to read or write, refused to remain silent while injustice prevailed. Instead, Sojourner traveled the country speaking truth about slavery, truth about women, and truth about God&rsquos powerful love.
Young readers are taken back in time to meet one of history&rsquos most tenacious women.
Sojourner Truth - History
Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 as Isabella, a Dutch-speaking slave in rural New York. Separated from her family at age nine, she was sold several times before ending up on the farm of John and Sally Dumont. As was the case for most slaves in the rural North, Isabella lived isolated from other African Americans, and she suffered from physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her masters. Inspired by her conversations with God, which she held alone in the woods, Isabella walked to freedom in 1826. Although tempted to return to Dumont's farm, she was struck by a vision of Jesus, during which she felt "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and she gained the strength and confidence to resist her former master. In this experience, Isabella was like countless African Americans who called on the supernatural for the power to survive injustice and oppression.
In 1828, Isabella moved to New York City and soon thereafter became a preacher in the "perfectionist," or pentecostal tradition. Her faith and preaching brought her into contact with abolitionists and women's rights crusaders, and Truth became a powerful speaker on both subjects. She traveled extensively as a lecturer, particularly after the publication of The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which detailed her suffering as a slave. Her speeches were not political, but were based on her unique interpretation-as a woman and a former slave-of the Bible.
With the start of the Civil War, Truth became increasingly political in her work. She agitated for the inclusion of blacks in the Union Army, and, once they were permitted to join, volunteered by bringing them food and clothes. She became increasingly involved in the issue of women's suffrage, but broke with leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when Stanton stated that she would not support the black vote if women were not also granted the right. Truth also fought for land to resettle freed slaves, and she saw the 1879 Exodus to Kansas as part of God's divine plan. Truth's famous "Ar'n't I a Woman?" speech, delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention, is a perfect example of how, as Nell Painter puts it, "at a time when most Americans thought of slaves as male and women as white, Truth embodied a fact that still bears repeating: Among blacks are women among the women, there are blacks."
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella, the youngest of 12 children, in Ulster County, NY, in 1797. When she was nine, Isabella was sold from her family to an English speaking-family called Neely. Like many black New Yorkers, Isabella spoke only Dutch. Her new owners beat her for not understanding their commands. She was sold twice more before arriving at the Dumont farm, at 14. There she toiled for 17 years. John Dumont beat her, and there is evidence that his wife, Sally, sexually abused her. Of this time in her life, Isabella wrote: "Now the war begun." It was a war both with her masters, and herself.
Alone on John Dumont's farm with little contact with other black New Yorkers, Isabella found her own ways to worship God. She built a temple of brush in the woods, an African tradition she may have learned from her mother, and bargained with God as if he were a familiar presence. Even though she had worked hard to please her master for 16 years, Isabella listened to God when He told her to walk away from slavery. With her baby, Sophia, Isabella left Dumont's farm in 1826 and walked to freedom.
Like thousands of slaves, free blacks, and poor whites in the early nineteenth century, Isabella was swept up by the tide the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant evangelical movement that emphasized living simply and following the Holy Spirit. In 1827, newly-free Isabella considered returning to the Dumont farm to attend Pinkster, a celebration of New York slaves. She was saved from joining her ex-master by a frightening vision of God, followed by the calming presence of an intercessor, whom Isabella recognized as Jesus. With Jesus as her "soul-protecting fortress," Isabella gained the power to rise "above the battlements of fear."
In 1826, Isabella was living with the Van Wagenens, white Methodists, when she learned that her son, Peter, had been illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. An outraged Isabella had no money to regain her son, but with God on her side she said she felt "so tall within, as if the power of a nation was within [her]." She acquired money for legal fees, and filed a complaint with the Ulster County grand jury. Peter was returned to her in the spring of 1828, marking the first step in a life of activism inspired by religious faith.
In the late 1820s, Isabella moved to New York City and lived among a community of Methodist Perfectionists, men and women who met outside of the church for ecstatic worship and emphasized living simply through the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the perfectionists, Isabella fell under the spell of the "Prophet Matthias," and lived with his cult from 1833 to 1834. This experience suggests that Isabella, although on her way to self-confidence and independence, still yearned for structure and family, but chose an abusive situation - Matthias often beat her - that felt familiar to her experience as John Dumont's slave.
While living in New York, Isabella attended the many camp meetings held around the city, and she quickly established herself as a powerful speaker, capable of converting many. In 1843, she was "called in spirit" on the day of Pentecost. The spirit instructed her to leave New York, a "second Sodom," and travel east to lecture under the name Sojourner Truth. This new name signified her role as an itinerant preacher, her preoccupation with truth and justice, and her mission to teach people "to embrace Jesus, and refrain from sin." Sojourner Truth set off on her journey during a period of millennial fervor, with many poised to hear her call to Jesus before the Day of Judgement.
Sojourner Truth first met the abolitionist Frederick Douglass while she was living at the Northampton Association. Although he admired her speaking ability, Douglass was patronizing of Truth, whom he saw as "uncultured." Years later, however, Truth would use her plain talk to challenge Douglass. At an 1852 meeting in Ohio, Douglass spoke of the need for blacks to seize freedom by force. As he sat down, Truth asked "Is God gone?" Although much exaggerated by Harriet Beecher Stowe and other writers, this exchange made Truth a symbol for faith in nonviolence and God's power to right the wrongs of slavery.
The 1879 spontaneous exodus of tens of thousands of freedpeople from southern states to Kansas was the culmination of one of Sojourner Truth's most fervent prayers. After the Civil War, Truth had traveled to Washington to work among destitute freedpeople. Inspired by divine command, Truth began agitating for their resettlement to western lands. She drew up a petition (which probably never reached Congress, as intended) and traveled extensively, promoting her plan and collecting signatures. Truth saw the Exodusters, fleeing violence and abuse in the Reconstruction South, as evidence that God had a plan for African-Americans.
During the Civil War, Sojourner Truth took up the issue of women's suffrage. She was befriended by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but disagreed with them on many issues, most notably Stanton's threat that she would not support the black vote if women were denied it. Although she remained supportive of women's suffrage throughout her life, Truth distanced herself from the increasingly racist language of the women's groups. Truth died on November 26, 1883. In her old age, she had let go of Pentecostal judgement and embraced spiritualism. Her last words were "be a follower of the Lord Jesus."