Biography of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was one of the greatest advocates for women's rights and abolition of slavery in American history. She was born into slavery in New York under the name Isabella Bomfree. At the time, Ulster County, New York, was Dutch-speaking, and Isabella's first language was a dialect of Dutch. She was sold several times growing up, and had several children while in slavery. Only one year before New York passed a law freeing all slaves, she ran away with her infant daughter, Sophia. A nearby abolitionist family, the Van Wageners, bought her freedom for twenty dollars, and from that point on Isabella was free. With the help of Quaker friends, she also sued for the return of her five-year-old son Peter, who had been sold into slavery in Alabama.

Soon after attaining her freedom, Isabella moved to New York City. During her time in the city, she experienced a religious revival and found her calling in traveling the country and preaching the word of God. In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth to reflect this newfound calling and left New York City to pursue it. As a traveling preacher and orator, she advocated for passionate religiosity, women's rights, and the abolition of slavery, supporting herself by selling copies of her memoirs, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Later in life, during the Civil War, she gathered supplies for black volunteer regiments and was later honored at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. She also took legal action in Washington, D.C., to help integrate the city's streetcars. Truth then took a position with the National Freedmen's Relief Association, in which she provided counseling for former slaves. In 1875, she retired to Battle Creek, Michigan, where she remained until her death.

As an advocate and speaker, Sojourner Truth was one of the most prominent of her time. She had strong relationships with and won great admiration from many influential figures in the slavery abolition movement as well as the women's rights movement, and her legacy has been deeply important to this day for the memory of those movements. At the same time, contestations over her legacy continue to this day. Historical memory has sometimes whitewashed the women's rights movement, for example, and historians and activists have fought to include Sojourner Truth and other women of color alongside famous white suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Most recently, a memorial designed for Central Park and New York of Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was revised after much controversy to include Sojourner Truth.

Study Guides on Works by Sojourner Truth