VOICES OF SUFFRAGE
Sojourner Truth, Frances Watkins Harper, and
the Struggle for Woman Suffrage
Nell Irvin Painter
After the Civil War, in the midst of debates over black and woman suffrage, Sojourner Truth, a former slave and committed abolitionist, addressed the American Equal Rights Association: “If colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.” It was a typically courageous stand for this important supporter of woman suffrage. Before the Civil War, black and white men and women, including Truth, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and other reformers, had worked together against slavery and for woman's rights without seeing these causes as conflicting. In fact, Douglass had been a staunch supporter of woman's rights, demanding the vote as one of woman's essential rights as early as 1848, while Anthony had been a paid agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society as well as a suffragist. 1
During the Civil War, the woman's rights–abolitionist community held together seamlessly. In 1863, Stanton and Anthony formed the Women's Loyal National League, the first organization to petition Congress to make emancipation permanent and universal in a Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 2 But Reconstruction tore abolitionists apart. Republican politics demanded black male suffrage, abandoning any lobbying for universal voting for all adults—at a time when feminists glimpsed a victory of their own in the wings. As an African American activist, Truth's position was a significant one.