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Sojourner Truth in Abolitionists

Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883), born Isabella Van Wagener, was one of the most famous female African-American abolitionists of the nineteenth century. Born into slavery, Truth was set free in 1827 and took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. She became an evangelist and a moving public speaker, despite the fact that she remained illiterate throughout her life. Truth was introduced to the abolitionist movement upon joining a utopian community in Massachusetts, and spoke at antislavery rallies and conventions throughout the Midwest in the 1850s. She supported herself by selling copies of her life story, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

In the 1850s, activists including Lucretia Mott encouraged Truth to become involved with the women's rights movement. Seeking to enhance Truth's popular image, Frances Dana Gage (a white woman and activist) wrote the "Ar'n't I a Woman?" line for which Sojourner Truth later became famous. The question "Ar'n't I a Woman?" seemed to simultaneously symbolize Truth's race and gender. Gage also wanted to display more formidable writing talents than her rival, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote an admiring 1863 essay about Truth entitled "The Libyan Sibyl." Both white women (Gage and Stowe) were, as historian Nell Irvin Painter writes, "fascinated by Truth and sought to capture her in writing."3 Truth continued to speak at suffragette meetings until her death. She was hardly alone as a black woman in the struggle for abolition and women's rights, but many of her colleagues' names and memories have lamentably been lost to history or—more specifically—left ignored by too many historians. They included Sarah Douglass, Maria Stewart, Sarah Remond, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

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