Setting the Record Straight

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth
Title: Sojourner Truth; Source: History.com

In the earliest years of the Women’s suffrage movement, Black women appear to have been absent. The one exception was Sojourner Truth. 

It’s not too surprising, then, that at the first official women’s rights gathering in 1848, The Seneca Falls Convention, only one African American was reportedly present: former slave and well-known abolitionist Frederick Douglass. 

Missing Records

However, records from the years that followed show that Black women were erased, not missing in action.

"History of Woman Suffrage"

\"History of Woman Suffrage\"
"History of Woman Suffrage"

For example, prominent Black leaders Harriet Forten Purvis and Margaretta Forten were included in the records, but they were not reported as Black women. The women who took charge of record-keeping in the 1870s were Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda J Gage.

In their 1881 volume of “History of Woman Suffrage,” there were no pictures of Black women, not even Sojourner Truth. They included some excerpts from her speeches, but the contributions from other Black women were essentially missing.
 

Context

This information is very important; histories are almost always written by the victors. What this means is that because affluent white men — and to an extent white women too — had so much power throughout the history of the U.S., the accounts of what happened might not always be balanced.

Sometimes these biases are intentional (to leave out some of the ugly things that happened or to exaggerate victories, for example), and sometimes they are unintentional (because sometimes one person’s understanding of what happened is very different from another’s). Either way, it’s important to dig deeper in order to uncover the whole story.