Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Sojourner Truth, African-American Woman of the 19th Century
Lesson 2
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


This lesson is designed to provide the students with information about Sojourner Truth's contributions to abolitionism and women's suffrage. She worked tirelessly to aid the freed men after the Civil War and brought about increased recognition of their plight. Students will discuss the right of all voices to be heard in a democracy and determine how Sojourner Truth's work on behalf of various causes was philanthropic.


One Forty-Five Minute Class Period


The learner will:

  • recognize Sojourner Truth as a philanthropist and evaluate her contribution to various causes in nineteenth century America.
  • defend the right of all Americans to be heard by their government.
  • describe how the women's movement and anti-slavery movement were similar.


  • "Ain't I A Woman?" (Attachment One), a copy for each student
  • Sojourner Truth (Attachment Two)
  • Reference materials pertaining to Sojourner Truth (This material can be found in student texts and on the Internet.)
Handout 1
"Ain't I A Woman"
Handout 2
Sojourner Truth

Instructional Procedure(s):

    Anticipatory Set:
    When the students are seated start reading the speech, "Ain't I A Woman?" (Attachment One). Practice so that it can be done in dialect and read loudly. Read only the first paragraph. (If possible ask a tall black woman with a strong voice to read the speech either to the class or in a tape recording).
  • Draw a circle on the board and label it "Sojourner Truth." Based on only the one paragraph read to the students, ask the learners to supply descriptive words that would apply to Sojourner Truth. Ask them to predict what they might later learn about her life and work.
  • Ask the students what they noticed about the speech. One of the answers should be "the dialect." Working in groups of two, have students finish reading the speech. They are to underline any words they cannot understand. Take time to discuss the confusing words in a large group and discuss why her speech was different. Ask students what right Sojourner Truth had to be heard since she was a former slave, with no education, who could barely speak the language correctly.
  • Using Sojourner Truth (Attachment Two) as a teacher reference, introduce Sojourner Truth, her life, and the causes she supported. Ask students to speculate why she gave her support to more than one cause. How effective was she and other women in getting what they wanted? Emphasize her work on behalf of freed slaves and the women's movement.
  • Explain that Sojourner Truth's contributions can be considered a form of philanthropy (individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures for the common good). Ask students to identify how Sojourner Truth could be considered a philanthropist.
  • The women's movement sprang out of the antislavery movement in this country. Ask students to think about this and write why they think this might have happened. Have students share their responses.


Students should have contributed orally to the discussion of the speech as well as her contributions. They should have written their ideas on why the antislavery and women's movements were so closely related.

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

Students may read and report to the class on books about Sojourner Truth.

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Pamela McIntosh
Detroit Public Schools
Woodward Elementary School
Detroit, MI 48208


Handout 1Print Handout 1

"Ain't I A Woman"

"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin' 'bout? Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. "And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!" (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). "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 de lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' 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?"

"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with out-stretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.

Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "'Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty, turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of "testifyin' agin concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people."


Handout 2Print Handout 2

Sojourner Truth

  • circa 1797: Isabella born into slavery in Ulster County, New York
  • 1810: Bought for 70 (approximately $175) by John Dumont, New Paltz, NY.
  • She bore five children.
  • Late 1826: Isabella escapes to freedom with infant daughter, Sophia.
  • July 4, 1827: New York state emancipates slaves born after 1799.
  • 1827-28: Employed by Isaac Van Wagener in Ulster County, NY. Wins landmark lawsuit to recover son Peter illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. Converts to Christianity.
  • 1829: Moves to New York City with her son Peter.
  • 1831: Works for Elijah Pierson, a Christian evangelist, as a domestic.
  • 1832: Meets Robert Matthews, known as the Prophet Matthias, when he visits Pierson's home and starts housekeeping for him.
  • 1833: Joins the Matthias Kingdom communal colony, established under the leadership of Prophet Matthias, in New York City.
  • 1834-35: Kingdom dissolved after Prophet Matthias arrested.
  • 1836-38: Isabella is back in New York City.
  • 1843: At age 46, Isabella adopts the name Sojourner Truth, leaves New York and travels to Springfield, Mass.
  • 1844-45: Joins the utopian Northampton Association in Northampton, Mass., where she meets the anti-slavery reformers Giles Stebbins, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Parker Pillsbury, Frederick Douglass and the health reformer Sylvester Graham. Meets Olive Gilbert, an abolitionist-feminist who later wrote the Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
  • 1846: Northampton Association disbanded.
  • 1847: Works as housekeeper for George Benson, brother-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison.
  • 1850: Narrative published by Olive Gilbert with preface by William Lloyd Garrison. Attends women's rights convention in Worcester, Mass.
  • 1851: Leaves Northampton to join abolitionist George Thompson's speaker's bureau, traveling to Rochester, NY, where she stays with Underground Railroad leader, Amy Post. In May, attends women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, where she delivers the famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech.
  • 1851-53: In Salem, Ohio, works with Anti-Slavery Bugle editor Marius Robinson. Travels state as anti-slavery speaker.
  • 1852: In August, attends abolitionist meeting in Salem, Ohio where she confronts Frederick Douglass, asking "Is God gone?"
  • 1853: In October, speaks at suffragist "mob convention" at Broadway Tabernacle, New York City. Visits Harriet Beecher Stowe in Andover, Mass.
  • 1856: Comes to Battle Creek, Michigan to address Friends of Human Progress convention, through efforts of Michigan Quaker, Henry Willis.
  • 1857: Buys house and lot in Harmonia, six miles west of Battle Creek, Michigan.
  • 1864: In October, visits President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. Employed by National Freedman's Relief Association.
  • 1865: Assigned to work at Freedman's Hospital in Washington. Rides the Washington, D.C. streetcars to force their desegregation.
  • 1867: Moves to Battle Creek. Travels to Rochester, New York and South to resettle freed men. Visits suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
  • 1870: Travels to New Jersey, New York, New England, speaking against alcohol, tobacco and fashionable dress. Delivers her first lecture mentioning petition to give freedmen free land in the west. In Washington, D.C. meets President Grant in the White House. Appears in the U.S. Senate chamber, where Senators sign her Book of Life.
  • 1871: Continues to travel around New England and New York. Frederick Douglass signs her Book of Life. In June, Nanette Gardner of Detroit records in the Book of Life that she was the first woman to vote in a Michigan state election.
  • 1872: Travels around Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Attempts to vote for Grant, refused at the polling place in Battle Creek.
  • 1878 - 79: Sojourner travels through New York and other eastern states for six months during the fall and winter. Visits Kansas and Wisconsin to campaign for free land for former slaves.
  • 1880 - 82: Makes limited appearances around Michigan, speaking for temperance and against capital punishment.
  • 1883: In July, ill with ulcers on her legs, treated by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, who is said to have grafted some of his own skin onto Sojourner's leg.
  • November 26, 1883: Sojourner Truth dies at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan.
  • 1935: Memorial stone to Sojourner Truth is placed in the Stone History Tower in Monument Park, downtown Battle Creek.
  • 1976: As part of the nation's bicentennial celebration, the Calhoun County portion of state highway M-66 is designated as the "Sojourner Truth Memorial Highway."
  • 1981: Truth is inducted into the National Woman's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
  • 1983: Truth is in the first group of women inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in Lansing.
  • 1986: A commemorative postage stamp is issued in February.
  • 1997: Sojourner Truth honored with a Mars probe of the same name.


Philanthropy Framework:

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Unit Contents:

Overview:Women of the Industrial Era Summary


Industrial Revolution and Women (The)
Sojourner Truth, African-American Woman of the 19th Century
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Suffragist
Susan B. Anthony, Activist
Clara Barton to the Rescue

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