Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Sojourner Truth

Episode Summary

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was born into slavery and became an evangelist and outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance and women’s rights.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s warrior was an evangelist who became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance and women’s rights. Let’s talk about Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth’s name at birth was Isabella Baumfree. She was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York in 1797.

 In 1806, at the age of nine years old, Sojourner was sold at an auction along with a flock of sheep for $100. Sojourner later described the slave owner as cruel. She endured repeated beatings at his hands.  

Sojourner was sold once again, this time  to a man named John Dumont. Interestingly, because Sojourner grew up in New York state- originally settled by the Dutch- she actually only spoke Dutch. While living with Dumont, she finally learned to speak English  

At that time, support for emancipation in New York was growing. Dumont promised that he’d set Sojourner free before it became the law to do so. But eventually, Sojourner came to realize that he had no intention of freeing her. 

Sojourner fled with her infant daughter in 1826—one year before the abolition of slavery in New York. She was forced to leave her other three children behind. When she later reflected on the escape,  Sojourner said: “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”

During her journey to freedom, Sojourner made her way into the home of a Quaker couple, Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen. After learning about her predicament, they took Sojourner and her baby in until the state’s emancipation of slaves took effect. The Van Wagenens treated her with kindness and compassion. Sojourner later said that their benevolence inspired her to become a preacher. During Sojourner’s stay with the couple, she became a devout Christian. 

Around this time, Sojourner officially changed her name from “Isabella Baumfree” to “Sojourner Truth” because she felt it represented her mission of fighting for justice. Sojourner’s famous words: “Truth is powerful and it prevails” echo this sentiment.

After moving to New York City, Sojourner worked as a domestic servant. She became active in the Methodist church and joined the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Sojourner also used her experience to help others, volunteering as a social worker for former slaves. 

Despite being illiterate, Sojourner became a popular speaker in the abolitionist movement. She spoke in front of hundreds, promoting religious tolerance, civil and women’s rights. 

In 1854, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Sojourner gave her most famous speech called “Ain’t I a Woman?” She spoke about racial and gender equality, and refuted a common argument that women shouldn’t have equal rights because Jesus was a man. In her speech, she asked “Where did you, Christ, come from?” and then preached: “From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with Him.”  

When the Civil War broke out, Sojourner helped recruit Black troops for the Union Army. For her efforts in the war and the abolitionist movement, Sojourner was invited to meet President Lincoln in 1864. She continued to teach and lecture about social justice until her death in 1883 at the age of 86. 

Sojourner Truth was a passionate activist who used her religious fervor and personal experience to spread a message promoting equality.

Join us tomorrow to learn about another warrior!

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!