Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe in Ain't I a Woman?

By Sojourner Truth, a.k.a. Isabella Baumfree

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Who hasn't heard the name Harriet Beecher Stowe in relation to the abolition movement? Stowe, married to a preacher, is the infamous rabble-rousing author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852. This was the newspaper serial that set off the powder keg of anti-slavery sentiment in the North, essentially ensuring the Civil War.

Who says literature can't be world-changing?

The Plot Thickens

There's a reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin in the Key Player Analysis for Frances Gage. Well, that wasn't a throw-away allusion. Uncle Tom's author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is equally responsible for the portrait we have of Sojourner Truth as a native-born African who was held captive in the South. Definitely showing that journalistic integrity is variable, Stowe wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly in 1863 called "Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl." That article sparked Gage's competitive spirit, resulting in "Ain't I a Woman?"

According to Stowe, she interviewed Truth once and was told that she was taken from Africa with her parents. Some things were correct, like she was once called Isabella and that her son was sold away to Alabama. The rest: not so much.

But maybe, Stowe was reacting to public sentiment, who thought the Southern slave from Africa a romantic figure.

No one wanted to read about a Northern slave who grew up speaking Dutch. That was too close to European for comfort when discussing the enslavement of an entire race. No, a tall, uneducated African who used quaint terms like "Mammy" was a stronger selling point…and Stowe knew it. Being a passionate and dedicated abolitionist, who was quite frankly fearless given the reaction to Uncle Tom's Cabin, she used the tools at hand to drum up support for her cause.

The infamous "Frederick, is God dead?" (see the Key Player Analysis for Frederick Douglass) moment actually came from "The Libyan Sibyl," so its truth might be a tad shaky.

The (Sojourner) Truth is Out There

Stowe also attempted to dissuade anyone from a minor thing like fact-checking by stating that Truth was dead by the time of the article. Yeah, about that: Truth actually lived another twenty years, still advocating for her causes.

Let Stowe be a lesson to any budding journalist—get your facts straight and don't stretch the truth, because it will come out eventually. It may take a good few decades, but someone will undoubtedly divide the propaganda from the truth.

And if you're craving more details on Harriet Beecher Stowe, check this out.