Sojourner Truth, featured on this postcard, was photographed in 1864 by a photographer who is unknown today. The postcard commemorates the exhibition Women's Work, on view July 21, 2023 - July 7, 2024
This is an 1864 photograph of Sojourner Truth by a photographer unknown today. Born into slavery in Dutch-speaking New York, Isabella Baufree (d. 1883) gained her legal freedom in 1827. She found work in New York City performing domestic labor, leaving to pursue life as an itinerant preacher. Baufree renamed herself Sojourner Truth in 1843. Truth championed the political rights of African American women and men, encouraging women’s rights advocates to include Black women in their work. In 1851, Truth extemporaneously delivered a speech now known as “Ain’t I A Woman.” She borrowed examples from her life to describe Black women’s combined strength and femininity. The New York Independent republished it in 1863, rewriting it in stereotyped dialect.
To support her speaking tour across the country, Sojourner Truth sold copies of her autobiography and portraits of herself. The words at the bottom of her carte-de-visite are a bold and important statement in an era where the photographer would have otherwise owned the rights to her photograph. Truth also used props to invoke the visual culture of white middle class womanhood, subverting the idea of racial hierarchy.. She wore a shawl and bonnet and posed with a book—an important symbol of literacy, even though she could neither read nor write.
The Center for Women’s History new exhibition showcases approximately 45 objects from New-York Historical’s own Museum and Library collections to demonstrate how “women’s work” defies categorization. Curated by the Center for Women’s History curatorial staff and fellows.