Sunday, December 16, 2007
You know how you just happen to pay attention to something more after you are really into it.
Well I came across the picture below last night flipping thru the Knit.1 Winter 2007 mag and on the very last page I had to seriously pause and give notice to her:
Feminist abolitionist, suffragette, and evangelist Sojourner Truth
I always knew who Sojourner Truth was and her significance in black history, but I then had to do some research on her now that I realized she was a knitter!!
I discovered this fabulous "knitstory"on her:
"It is not surprising that Isabella Van Wagenen, a Dutch-speaking African slave girl in Ulster County, New York , was a prolific spinner and knitter. Most women of that early 19th century Dutch community spun wool and knitted garments for protection against the blustery winters of that rugged, rural area. What is surprising is the creativity with which Isabella turned the common domestic art of knitting into a tool of self-sufficiency and self-definition.
Born into slavery at the turn of the 19th century, Isabella was required to spin and knit by the various New York slave owners for whom she labored during her childhood and teen years. Convicted by what she considered to be the commanding voice of God, however, she took major steps to transform her life. In 1826, one year before legal manumission in New York, she followed that voice and simply walked away from her slave master. In 1843, she was called to rename herself Sojourner Truth and to become an itinerant preacher.
Truth spent much of the time between 1830 and 1846 in religious communes doing domestic work, which included spinning and knitting. During the following years, as a spokesperson for the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, knitting circles were part of the social life that Truth shared with the white women with whom she spent most of her time.
Although Sojourner Truth was a compelling public speaker, the very attributes that bolstered her charismatic presence were used to sabotage her effectiveness. Layering commonly held, negative stereotypes about Black women with aspersions about her gender, detractors claimed that Truth’s gaunt, tall, masculine body and deep, guttural, Dutch-accented voice were those of a man. Even Truth supporters, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, chose to inaccurately characterize Truth as a naïve, exotic African, who spoke in ungrammatical, southern dialect.
The ingenious activist, Truth, responded by having her photograph imprinted on cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards, the business cards of that era. She went to great lengths to be photographed in beautifully tailored, feminine clothing, as she posed amidst carefully arranged symbols of middle class respectability, especially her knitting needles and yarn. According to Truth biographer, Nell Irvin Painter, “Truth actually did knit, but in her photographs, she holds her yarn in only one hand, so that it conveys a motherly womanliness central to her self-fashioning.”
During and after the Civil War, Truth used knitting as a life-changing tool in another way. Traveling to various refugee camps for former slaves, she became a teacher and advisor for fugitives and former slaves. At Freedom Village in Arlington Heights , Virginia in the 1860’s and at enclaves sponsored by the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association in the 1870’s, Truth taught knitting as a part of her regimen of industriousness and self-sufficiency.
After spending a number of years on the lecture circuit, Sojourner Truth spent her latter years with her daughters in Battle Creek , Michigan , where she received lots of admiring visitors, and undoubtedly interspersed her visits with knitting, a domestic art that she cherished. Truth’s journey testifies to the potency of yarn and two needles in knitting the threads of a life of service, survival, self-sufficiency, and even self-definition.
~ Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter
*And if you want to learn more about Sojourner here is a brief summary of her. Also, a few more facts about her knitting, injured hand, and how she even purchased her own yarn!
*Of course I had to include her infamous speech that makes you feel like you should not have one complaint in the world and that you can do anything! THIS is the original superwoman.
And ain't I a woman?
and eat as much as a man--