Sojourner Truth (c. 1797 - 1883) was born Isabella Baumfree as a slave, and later adopted the name Sojourner Truth. After escaping slavery, she fought for the rights of slaves and women. She gave her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech in Akron, Ohio in 1851.
Sojourner was born on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate, Swartekill, Ulster County, New York as one of thirteen children of Elizabeth and James Baumfree, both slaves on the Swartekill estate. The estate was located in Dutch country, and Sojourner spoke only Dutch until she was purchased (along with a herd of sheep) at auction in 1806 for $100 by John Neely, near Kingston, NY. The Neelys spoke English, and because of the language barrier, Sojourner was often beaten for misunderstandings.
In 1808 she was bought for $105 by Martinus Schryver of Kingston, NY, staying there about 18 months. She was then bought in 1810 for 70 pounds (c.$175) by John Dumont, New Paltz, NY. She bore five children: Diana, Peter, Elizabeth, Sophia and a child who died in infancy.
In 1826 Isabella walked to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She had to leave the other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order. However, on July 4, 1827, New York state emancipated slaves born after 1799.
In 1843, at age 46, Isabella adopted the name Sojourner Truth, and left New York to travel to Springfield, Mass.
She traveled in 1851 to Rochester, NY and stayed with the Underground Railroad leader, Amy Post. In May of that year, Sojourner Truth attended a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered the speech later known as "Ain't I a Woman?"
The following is from The Modern History sourcebook at Fordham Univerity. Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851:
"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."
In 1864, she visited President Abraham Lincoln at the White House, and in 1865 was assigned to work at Freedman's Hospital in Washington. She rode the Washington, DC, streetcars in order to force their desegregation. Sojourner Truth was allegedly also the first black woman to vote in a Michigan state election.
She resided in or near Battle Creek, Michigan for the last twenty-five years of her life. She died there in 1883 and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery where W. K. Kellogg and C. W. Post, pioneers in the breakfast cereal industry, were later interred.
An impressive monument to her has been erected near the Battle Creek City Hall and the city's Underground Railroad memorial.