Truth joins abolitionist movement

In 1843, the former Isabella Wagenen changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She later explained that she made the change when God spoke to her and gave her a new name. She also left New York City during this time, in part because she felt depressed about the poverty in which so many of its citizens lived.

After leaving New York City, Truth became a wandering preacher of God's word. Traveling up and down the Connecticut River Valley, she delivered her message about God's love, wisdom, and power to countless rural audiences. During her travels of this period, she also became acquainted with many of the most important members of America's growing abolitionist movement, including Frederick Douglass (1817-1895; see entry), William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), and George Benson.

Truth's contact with these leaders in the abolitionist cause had a tremendous impact on her. Inspired by their efforts to abolish slavery—and their support for women's rights—Truth added strong statements about these issues to her evangelical message. By the late 1840s, Truth's blunt and fiery speaking style had established her as one of the abolitionist movement's most popular speakers.

Harriet Tubman And Abraham Lincoln
A painting shows Sojourner Truth's visit with President Abraham Lincoln. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Truth speaks out

In 1850, Truth joined with abolitionist Olive Gilbert to write The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Sales of this book, which Truth published herself, became the abolitionist's primary means of supporting herself for the next several years. In 1851, she attended a women's rights conference in Akron, Ohio. Truth had gone to the conference in order to talk with other supporters of women's rights and sell copies of her autobiography. During the conference, however, several male ministers ridiculed female attempts to win the right to vote and gain legal protections that white men took for granted. When none of the white women at the conference rose to defend their cause, Truth boldly stood up and delivered a spirited scolding to the ministers that ended with thunderous applause from her female audience. Her speech, in which she proudly asserted her identity as both a woman and a black person, is remembered today as one of the most significant events in the American women's rights movement.

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