Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Truth

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 na├»ve, 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.

(poetic version)

That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place. . .
And ain't I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me...
And aint I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man--
when I could get to it--
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?

I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain't I a woman?

That little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman
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
together women ought to be able to turn it
right side up again.

~ Delivered 1851 Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio

I just had to take a moment and honor this magnificent knitter!

41 Comments:

  1. Adrienne said...
    OH WOW, I did not know this! I am so going to link this on my blog tomorrow. BLACK FOLKS BEEN KNITTING!!! humph! :-)
    Liz K. said...
    I loved reading this!!! Thanks for sharing it. I think of how many times I've seen that photo of Sojourner Truth and never even noticed the knitting.
    Carmell said...
    outstanding post!
    lindwee said...
    Virtuos,
    i feel like reading this post ten times.
    Merry Christmas!
    Chronic Ennui said...
    What a great piece of history... proving yet again that knitters are great people... Thanks for sharing.
    turtlegirl76 said...
    Wow! I didn't know that! Thank you so much for sharing!
    cpurl17 said...
    What a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman.

    I picture her being a furious knitter!
    Erica B. said...
    I noticed this a few years ago that she was knitting in this picture. One of my kids was doing a paper on her. "Ain't I a Woman" goes right up there with "Still I Rise", "Ego Tripping" and "Phenomal Woman"! Great post!
    MrsPurls said...
    I can't believe as many times I've seen this picture I never saw that. But you're right, you don't notice things until you are involved with it. Thanks for sharing! I Love being an African-American Woman! This post just reinforced all I learned from my trip to Charleston this weekend! HAPPY HOLIDAY!

    Michelle
    craft-chick said...
    I first learned of Sojourner Truth while in grade school, but it wasn't until law school when I took a Feminist Legal Theory class that I really understood just how powerful her speaking was. I think being older now and a woman myself brings more feeling and understanding to her "Ain't I a Woman," I even think of how women today are "supposed" to do it all, and how sometimes it's frowned upon to be classified as a woman. Great post!
    Connie said...
    I really enjoyed this post and it touched my heart as a mother. She was a true Christian woman and any woman of any color or race can learn from this great lady of history.
    Octopus Knits said...
    That was so interesting! Thanks!
    Don said...
    Stacey, you are in rare form w/ the picture which reveals Sojourner Truth as a knitter.

    Who can stop you? lol
    J.P. said...
    Wow.. very very cool!
    Michelle said...
    Wow very interesting!
    Ava said...
    Outstanding post! Thanks for the history lesson!
    Shanda said...
    It's true-you don't notice certain things until you take a personal interest in them. It makes me proud to know that knit.1 posted a piece on this subject, that Sojourner participated in multicultural knitting circles (Way back then!!!), and I always love to that speech.
    Thanks for the marvelous post! Best thing I've read on the net today!
    ~Shanda, long time lurker, first time poster
    Virtuous said...
    Shanda! Thank you so much for taking the time to "de-lurk". I truly appreciate it!! Hope you do it again soon! :o)
    Lovely said...
    What a great post!!
    Sheila said...
    What a great honor. My daughter has done a report on Sojourner Truth at least a half-a-dozen times and I never noticed the yarn. Great Post… Thanks for Sharing.
    Cass said...
    WOW what a great post! I'm going to read it to my kids. Thanks Stacey!
    Renee said...
    What a wonderful post! Thanks Stacey!
    Working Mom Knits said...
    What a great way to start my Monday : ) Thanks so much for sharing.

    ps: isn't her name just WONDERFUL?!
    Robin said...
    Wow, what an interesting post!! Thanks for sharing!
    chanknits said...
    Brought tears to my eyes. She's long been a HERo of mine, and I've seen the picture you used before, but thought little of it! Now I'm curious about my other HERoes and knitting...
    Sereknitty said...
    All I can say is 'WOW'! What a phenomenal woman. Thanks for sharing.
    Gnat said...
    Thank you very much for sharing.
    urbanknitrix said...
    This is the second great person I learned knit!!! I feel so good right now. I learned this weekend that George W Carver, crochet, knit and did needlepoint. That man was a genius like Sojourner. Love history!!!

    I put a link to your blog on mines. Thanks!!!
    NH Knitting Mama said...
    Thank you so much for sharing this awesome story. Nice blog, too! I enjoyed poking around.
    vegasangelbrat said...
    Awesome story and one I didn't know about. Thanks for sharing this.
    narcissaqtpie said...
    awesome posting, thank you!
    Miss Me said...
    wow...! i had noticed the picture but being canadian, i had no idea who she was. thanks for sharing. she clearly was a VERY IMPORTANT woman in many respects.
    scrapandthecity said...
    i saw this too, in knit 1 and i thought phenominal, did i spell that right, hope so. i was really amazed cause i never noticed that detail of the photo. its amazing.

    s.
    Janet Richards said...
    Thank you for the history lesson! That was great - I loved the history of her knitting and the poem. I hadn't read it in a while and enjoyed rereading it again!
    tiennieknits said...
    I love this post about Sojourner! Thank you so much!
    KelInCal said...
    Very thoughtful post. Thanks!
    yarndiva said...
    tell it girl!

    don't get me started on the african american, asian american, etc., knitting groups that formed during WWI and WWII just to knit for their troops while they were away. there is so much african american history in knitting that just isn't discussed. thank you for pointing that out in such an eloquent post!
    Lorette said...
    What a great post! Thanks for sharing this one! The poem is terrific as well.
    WandaWoman said...
    I did see a post about a year ago that mentioned Sojourner Truth and it showed her knitting. The funny thing is I've seen the picture several times, but never noticed the knitting. Thanks for posting a little about herstory, very fascinating.
    Dipsy Doodle said...
    How absolutely stunning! I have heard a lot about Sojourner Truth before, but this was a piece of information that I wasn't aware of until now - this is really such a wonderful piece of history! Thank you for sharing!
    CynicalGal said...
    Gosh, how many times have I seen that photo and not noticed the knitting! I've long admired Sojourner Truth and I'm thrilled to read your post today. It is inspiring and exciting! What a powerful woman she was.

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