The Era of Expansion, Political Reform and Turmoil

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth. Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-6165.

The Era of Expansion, Political Reform and Turmoil roughly encompassed the dates 1815-1876.  Sectional differences influenced the office of President when James Monroe won the election of 1816.  His presidency would be labeled the era of good feelings, where partisan matters faded away while foreign affairs and westward expansion benefited business and government. During this era there were a number of slave revolts, namely Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser. The fabric of society strained under the moral hypocrisy of the United States, a country that declared liberty and justice for all, yet women and African Americans were at best servile and property subject to the whim of land owning men. The sacred world trembled under the weight of social issues, causing several Protestant Christian denominations, Methodists, Episcopal and Presbyterian to split over the issue of enslavement. Many southern churches favored the economic method of labor, while northern churches moved to industrial methods of generating business. The southern economy was driven by agrarian means which slave labor influenced. Northern companies moved to an industrial model which required paid human labor in manufacturing and factories. This ideological diversion between the north and south fanned existing tensions between the two regions of the country.       

During this time, African American women expanded and explored their options. Women in northeastern states began campaigns, speaking out against the evils of enslavement, while other women were proactive in self-emancipating efforts.  Group efforts throughout Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC marked a trend in self-help and community uplift.  In 1821, two hundred working-class women in Philadelphia banded together to form the Daughters of Africa Mutual Benefit Society. In 1827 African Dorcas Association was founded by black women in New York City to supply clothing to children in the African Free School, a group that provided education to the children of slaves and free African Americans.

The Catholic community in 1829 established the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, Maryland; the first Roman Catholic religious community of black women in the United States, with Elizabeth Lange, originally from Santo Domingo as mother superior. In 1859 Rebecca Cox Jackson founded the first black Shaker community in Philadelphia.  Jarena Lee was the first woman to petition the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference for a license to preach, but was denied in 1809.  Lee continued her itinerant ministry and eventually was granted the right to speak by Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME), in the 1840s.

Countless individuals sought self-emancipation in 1843. Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree), a black woman who escaped from slavery in 1826 by making her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagener, began speaking on abolitionism.  Her name change from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth marked her life with a supernatural connection to God who she remarked gave her the name Sojourner Truth. Her life after enslavement involved speaking and traveling throughout the country. During her speech in Akron, Ohio, in 1851 she challenged racial and gender hierarchies at a women’s rights convention.  In 1858, while speaking in Silver Lake, Indiana, she was forced to bare her breasts to prove her sexual identity.  


back -- home -- next