Feminist Waves Report

Updated June 8, 2022

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The first wave of feminism plays a very key role. Before this time, women were seen as inferior in every single way. This way of living was never questioned. Over time, women grew tired of going through this and decided to start to speak up. Once this happened, there was no going back. Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth are two women who played critical roles in getting the ball rolling for what would come to be feminism.

Maria Stewart’s life was one of struggle. To start, Maria Stewart was born free in Hartford, Connecticut in 1803. Not much is known about her parents other than their surname, Miller. She lost both parents at the age of 5 and became a servant for a white clergyman and his family. She did not attend school but learned what she could through the family’s personal library. Maria left after turning 15 and went to Sabbath schools. She worked as a servant to support herself. Maria later moved to Boston. In 1826, she married 44 year old war veteran James M. Stewart. He made a good living fitting out fishing vessels. They were part of the “three percent of Boston’s population, and the Stewarts were part of an even smaller minority: Boston’s black middle class.” (MacLean 2) Her husband died in December of 1829 and they had no children. Despite the generous amount of money left for Maria from James’ death, the white men that prepared James’ will defrauded her out of the inheritance. Maria had to go back to being a servant to support herself. Stewart found comfort in Christianity. With this new found adoration to religion, she turned her attention to activism. She wanted to be a “strong advocate for the cause of God and for the cause of freedom’ (2). This struggle she faced would go on to influence her fight for equal rights for all.

Maria Stewart lived an influential life in encouraging women to stick up for themselves. The abolition movement sparked a fire within Maria and began to write for The Liberator. She published Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality where she asked black people to stand together against slavery. The fight for black women’s rights came up when she asked, “How long shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?’ (Guy-Sheftall 29) She urged women to stop being complacent and demand rights. She gave public speeches preaching this which was unheard of for not only a woman, but for a black women. She eventually started teaching at public schools in Manhattan and Long Island. She was unafraid to speak up on behalf of others. It was through this that she made a difference. She believed that when they gained their freedom, they would truly flourish. Her eagerness to demand change has had an effect on people of today, including myself.

Stewart’s work was ahead of her time. People did not understand her need and want to be a public voice. Without a formal education, her work’s a testament to her intelligence. Her and I are different. She comes from the east coast and I from the west. She was black and I am Mexican. She was alive in a time of slavery and I of freedom. One major thing we have in common is that we’re women. Stewart wanted equality for all, same as me. Inequality is still an issue today, centuries later from when Stewart was alive. She seemed like a very confident, headstrong woman. She understood her purpose of spreading a message of equality. Her work has inspired people after her and will continue to do so.

It is no mystery why she had the impact that she did. She was a very eloquent woman. Her story changed my perception of feminism and what it takes. She kept pushing on despite her circumstances and it made her stronger. It goes to show that I can help the fight for equality regardless of what is going on in my personal life. Even just being another voice begging for equality makes a world of difference. She was a great example of a first wave feminist whose tenacity would inspire people after her. Her dedication to the cause is a tremendous example of the capability of women and I felt honored to be able to learn and retell her story.

Sojourner Truth is another first wave feminist whose story is worth telling. She was born named Isabella Baumfree to slaves Betsey and James Baumfree in Ulster County, New York around 1797. By the time she was born, the economy was dependent on slaves and they’d been bought and slaved for “more than 150 years” (Krass 24). Truth grew up speaking Dutch. Their area had previously been owned by New Netherlands. Her siblings were sold into slavery. She was separated from her parents when their master died. A law granting freedom to those over 50 with permission from their owner ended up freeing her dad. The law was aimed towards those that were healthy but they made an exception to her father. Her mom then had to support the both of them. Her mom eventually died from a coma and her dad from starvation. Before he died, he convinced Martin Schryver to buy her from her previous rough owners. It was with her new owners that she learned english. She married another slave named Thomas, encouraged by her then owner John Dumont. He wanted her to have children to have more help and she had 5 beginning in 1815. When one of her daughters was an infant, she escaped and went with the Van Wageners, a pro-abolition family who bought her freedom. Her son Peter, 5 years old, was illegally sold into slavery and the Van Wageners helped get him back. By 1828, Truth moved to New York City where she worked for a minister. Through her love of being a speaker during religious revivals, she claimed that the Spirit “called on her to preach the truth, renaming herself Sojourner Truth” (Michals 2). This led her to start to really make a difference.

Truth began making speeches against slavery, inspired by abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. An autobiography about her titled The Narrative of Sojourner Truth was written for her by Olive Gilbert since she couldn’t read nor write. Truth could then support herself and gained recognition throughout the country. Truth embarked on a lecture tour beginning in 1851. This included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio where she delivered her well-known “Aren’t I a Woman?” speech. This speech urged the listeners to join together and pointed out their inferiority based on their gender and race. Due to differing opinions with Douglass, they split ways as he thought men’s suffrage should come before women’s. Truth thought that it should be at the same time. Truth continued her public speaking and helped slaves escape to freedom. During the Civil War, Truth provided supplies to black Union troops. Sojourner became part of the Freedman’s Bureau to help find jobs for freed slaves and provided aid for them to move on. She passed away in Michigan in 1883 after being nearly blind and deaf in her final years.

Sojourner Truth’s teachings has inspired many. She truly believed that women deserved to be able to do everything men could do. She knew women’s rights should include rights to fair wages, custody of their children, permittance to higher education, and right to hold office (Guy-Sheftall 221). She knew what it was like to be stripped of her rights due to slavery and her gender and understood the importance of gaining true freedom because of this. Her and I are different because of our race but I too believe in the things that she thinks that women deserve. There is still a gender gap and it is unfair to women. There is need for change. She was such a strong women who lived her entire life until she died, fighting for what she believed to be the right thing. She would not give up and even learned english to better get her point across. Nothing stood in her way. Her status of being a first wave feminist sets an early example and a great template for the fundamental rights that women want that can still apply today. Her encouragement for women’s suffrage would then go on to inspire women in the following century to go out and not stop until they gained suffrage.

Truth taught me many things. She is a great role model in her undying fight and determination to see change happen in the world. Her beliefs impact me because of the inspiration that I can draw from it. She was not a properly educated women and yet still went on to do public speaking across the nation and get more people on board. Despite the obvious differences between her and I, the issue of inequality between the genders is still very evident. Her endless desire to affect positive change inspires myself and others and I am sure will never cease to happen.

There is an importance in learning and hearing the stories of women in the first wave of feminism. They were the first brave women who opened their mouths to demand equality. Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth are two great examples of women who did just that. Though they were not alive to see things such as women’s suffrage be gained, they instilled inspiration that was needed for the generations to come to continue their fight. They came from a time where women were not given a voice and to go against that and demand one took an incredible amount of bravery and this should never be forgotten.

Works Cited

  1. Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. TheNew Press, 1996.
  2. Krass, Peter. Sojourner Truth. Melrose Square Pub. Co., 1990.
  3. MacLean, Maggie. “Maria Stewart.” History of American Women, 2 Apr. 2017, www.womenhistoryblog.com/2013/02/maria-stewart.html.
  4. Michals, Debra. “Sojourner Truth.” National Women’s History Museum, 2015, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sojourner-truth.
  5. Painter, Nell Irvin. Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol. W.W. Norton, 1997.
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