In her "Book of Life," Sojourner Truth says that "she trusts her scribe" to make decisions on her behalf. 1 This trusted scribe was Frances Walling Titus. Titus was Truth's corresponding secretary, tour director, confidante, financial manager and editor of four versions of her biography, Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
But Frances Titus accomplished much more than this during her lifetime. She was a leader in two important reform movements of her time. She founded a school for resettled freedmen and was a major figure in local and state suffrage movements. When she died in 1894, her obituary noted:
Frances Walling was born in 1816 at Charlotte, Vermont, and was raised in a Quaker household. Little is known of her childhood and early teenage years which she spent in Cleveland, Ohio.
In October 1844 she married Captain Richard F. Titus. A native of New Rochelle, New York, Titus was a son and grandson of millers. However as a young man, Richard chose a seafaring career. He became a sea captain at the age of eighteen, sailing the West Indies and South American trade routes. By the age of 43, he gave up the sea and came to Battle Creek, Michigan, to live. Reared in the Quaker faith, it is thought that he chose this town because of its large Quaker population.
Following their marriage in Cleveland, the Titus' chose to build a new home on what was part of the Merritt family farm, selecting a lot fronting on Maple Street (now Capital Avenue NE). The expansive abode as a two-story Colonial style structure with a porch across the front and wing on the east side. A few years before Frances' death, her son remodeled the family home into a "modern" Victorian mansion, complete with a variety of gables, central tower and a profusion of porches. 3
The young couple had two sons; Richard, Jr., who died at the age of three, and Samuel John, born January 16, 1846. Reminiscing about those early years, Samuel described the rural setting of the village.
In 1844, Titus joined Jonathan Hart, a fellow Quaker and early pioneer settler, in the mercantile trade. He dissolved this partnership in 1847 and was engaged in the oil and lard business with Henry Cantine.
Nine years later Titus bought Chester Buckley's interest in a local mill and began a partnership with Ellery Hicks. The firm, known as Titus & Hicks, was built on the mill race between East and West Canal streets, close to the present location of the Mill Race Park. 5
In 1855 the Battle Creek Daily Journal noted that the Titus & Hicks mill was :
The business went through a number of alterations and improvements during its seventy-year existence. At the time of Richard's death, July 30, 1868, his son Samuel assumed ownership, along with William E. Hicks, the heir of Ellery Hicks. By 1924 the mill was experiencing financial difficulties, was placed in receivership and permanently closed its doors. 7
As her son grew older, Frances Titus became free to act on her social and religious convictions. Like most of the Quakers in the area, Titus was an ardent abolitionist. As historian Carleton Mabee noted:
Pillsbury was on the "spiritualist lecture circuit" with other abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison and Amy Post. After the Civil War, Pillsbury, like many of the former abolitionists, became a radical suffragist. He was a friend of Sojourner Truth's and appeared on the same platform with her on several occasions.
Titus was involved, with other local citizens like Henry Willis, in helping former slaves start new lives. Working with Josephine Griffing of the Freedman's Bureau in Washington, DC, Titus, in December 1866, was entrusted with "a party of eight freed people." 9
Her friend, Henry WIllis, was another recipient of twenty-eight freedman, looking after them until they were able to find jobs and housing. Later, stung by a newspaper charge that he had profited from his dealings with the freedmen, Willis indignantly replied:
Apparently the efforts of Titus, Willis and the others were appreciated and by early 1867, word got back to Washington that Battle Creek was a safe haven. During this period, Sojourner Truth was in Rochester, New York, trying to have freedmen resettled to that area. A letter from Griffing to Truth in April 1867 indicates that many of the freedmen refused to go to New York, preferring to be sent to familiar destinations, including Battle Creek :
Concerned about the education of the freedmen that were arriving in Battle Creek, Frances Titus started a school in 1867 to teach the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. The classes were held on the second floor of the old city hall on Sundays and Friday evenings.
At Christmas 1867, her grateful students presented Titus with a "handsome testimonial." The local newspaper reported the occasion:
Unfortunately, the names of her co-workers, and other details of this school, are left largely unrecorded. There is some indication that she may have continued the school for another year, but all evidence disappears by 1870.
During the time that she was teaching in the freedman school, Titus was beginning her work with Sojourner Truth. They first met in 1856 at the Progressive Friends meeting in Harmonia, where Truth was one of several speakers. 14 There is no documentary evidence that Titus and Truth worked together closely during the following decade, although they probably knew each other.
The first record of their collaboration is from the fall of 1867. Sojourner had just returned from Washington, DC, and bought a "barn" on College Street from William Merritt. She was slowly remodeling the small building into a home. With winter fast approaching, she asked Titus to write a letter requesting money from her friend, Eliza Leggett of Detroit.
During the next few years, Truth was traveling extensively around the east coast and Kansas Although the two women kept in touch with each other, Titus concentrated her energies on the emerging suffrage movement in Michigan.
In January 1870 a woman's suffrage convention was held in the Hamblin Opera House:
At this gathering, Frances Titus was appointed to the finance committee and served as treasurer.
As a result of this meeting, the Michigan Suffrage Association was founded. Again Frances Titus was in a leadership position as a member of the executive committee. 17
The Battle Creek Women's Suffrage Association (BCWSA) was officially organized on March 7, 1870. Frances Titus filled her accustomed position as treasurer while ex-mayor Elijah Pendill was elected president. His wife, Mary, was also a member of the executive committee. 18
A proud moment for the new organization came when the "great noble-souled" Susan B. Anthony came to speak at the Opera House in April 1870. The famed national abolition and suffrage leader delivered an impassioned plea for women's equality, calling for "Work, Wages and the Ballot." 19
The ladies continued to labor. By 1872 a Radical Women's Suffrage Association was organized, presumably because the "establishment" leaders of the BCWSA were not sufficiently aggressive. However, during the next two years, a series of frustrating legal losses discouraged the suffrage movement nationwide.
There was a rebirth of activity in 1874 when a campaign to amend the state constitution was launched. Michigan was the second state in the union to conduct an equal suffrage campaign and interest in the issue was running high. Almost every issue of the local newspapers carried articles signed by "Truth," "Right," or "Justice" outlining the evils and virtues of equal suffrage for women.
In April a group of women met in the Presbyterian Church to reorganize the dormant suffrage society. Frances Titus was elected interim chairman and Ann Graves was chosen president of the group. The slate of delegates to the upcoming state convention was also chosen, including Frances Titus, Ann Graves and Mary Pendill. 20
Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at the Lansing meeting, held on May 4-5, 1874. On Saturday, May 16, the people of Battle Creek also had the opportunity to hear this leading philosopher of the women's movement. The Hamblin Opera House was almost filled to capacity as Mrs. Stanton outlined the reasons for extending the vote to women. She argued that since women had all the burdens of citizenship, including taxation and legal responsibility for crimes, they should also have the benefits.
The association sponsored a "Grand Mass Meeting and Picnic" on August 4. The afternoon activities at the fair grounds began with a "free basket dinner" at noon, followed by speeches. Interestingly, all of the speakers were men. Even though the women members spoke at association meetings, they were not yet prepared to address large public audiences. One of the orators was George Julian of Indiana who argued that property, race or amount of knowledge had already been removed as qualifications for voting. Therefore the only question left was "whether a woman is a human being or not." Fortunately for the female sex, Julian quickly came to the conclusion that women were, indeed, human and therefore should have the vote. 22
"Citizens of the town [provided] refreshments for visitors at their homes," before the evening session in the Opera House. Giles B. Stebbins from Detroit, 23 read a letter from Judge McKeen of the U. S. Supreme Court of Wyoming, which spoke favorably of the effects of enfranchising the women of the Territory of Wyoming. 24 Judge P. H. Emerson of Utah reiterated, and refuted, the popular reasons for opposing suffrage. The most common fear was that women would be taken away from their household duties, resulting in the destruction of the family. He pointed out that they were allowed to work in churches for charitable purposes and had not yet deserted hearth and home. 25
Even though the women, and their male supporters, worked untiringly in support of the constitutional amendment, they were resoundingly defeated. There was one small consolation for the Battle Creek suffragists. Statewide the vote for women was rebuffed by more than a three to one margin, but locally the margin was only two to one.
After this disheartening defeat, Titus re-established her close connection with Sojourner Truth. The year 1874 had been a difficult one for Truth. During the summer Sojourner returned from the east coast because her grandson Sammy, who was her traveling companion, fell ill with tuberculosis. While he was ill, Sojourner herself suffered a recurrence of the ulcers on her leg. She was so ill she could not walk for two months. As Sojourner later wrote to a friend:
During this enforced confinement, Sojourner worked with Frances Titus on revising her biography. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century was originally published by Olive Gilbert in 1850. For this new edition Titus also planned to add a new section to the Narrative. Truth gave Titus her three scrapbooks, which she called her "Book of Life," containing autographs, letters and articles about her travels and speeches. Because she was illiterate, "Truth trust[ed] her scribe to make the selections" of appropriate materials from these scrapbooks. 27
Titus made significant changes in the text of the Narrative and altered some of the original documents used in the new section, the History of Her Labors and Correspondence, Drawn from her "Book of Life." According to historian Carleton Mabee:
Apparently, most of Titus's changes were designed to enhance Truth's public image. She left out derogatory remarks, changed the dialect passages into standard English and exaggerated public reaction to Truth's speeches. One example can be found in the well-known description of her meeting with president Lincoln in October 1864. Titus makes two significant alterations to the account which first appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard in December 1864. In the Standard's version, Lincoln was "compelled" to issue the Emancipation Proclamation by the actions of the South, while in the Narrative, he was given the "opportunity to do these things." 29
Lincoln's statement that he had heard of Truth many times after she said she never knew of Lincoln before he was president was pure invention.
Three years later, Titus published another edition of the Narrative, as announced in the local Battle Creek newspapers:
This edition, published in Battle Creek, not Boston (as were all the previous editions), was paperbound and slightly larger in size. Mrs. Titus wrote the preface, replacing the 1875 essay by William Lloyd Garrison. Even the title was changed, to The Life of Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl, The Oldest Lecturer in the World! A Graphic Volume about the Colored Centenarian. 31
According to Truth, the 1875 edition of her Narrative "was got up to pay my debts and to help me in my old age." In addition to reimbursing Titus $350 for publication costs, Truth's debts included a second mortgage on her "little house," which she had taken to pay the medical bills for herself and her grandson Sammy, plus the expenses for his funeral. To sell the book, Sojourner and Titus planned to attend the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Unfortunately, Truth was once again ill and they had to cancel the trip. 32
Despite her advancing age, which made traveling for extended periods more difficult, Truth was unwilling to stay at home. As the local newspaper commented, "Sojourner Truth doesn't like to sojourn long while idle, and so she contemplates starting out again as soon as the weather moderates on another humanitarian trip." 33 After her grandson and companion Sammy Banks died, Sojourner needed someone to assist her while she was fulfilling her speaking engagements around the country. Frances Titus accepted this role, also becoming Truth's business manager and corresponding secretary.
During 1877 she accompanied Sojourner on a speaking tour of western Michigan, including Grand Haven and Muskegon, selling her book and pictures of herself. The next year they left on an extended trip to New York, attending the Rochester national women's rights convention. In April 1879 Frances Titus wrote home, asking her son Samuel to send more copies of the Narrative for them to sell. Samuel's reply to his mother reflects how much she was missed during her ten-month absence.
For more than a decade, Sojourner Truth had vigorously advocated the resettlement for the displaced freedmen who were crowding the nation's capital. In 1871 she had traveled to Kansas to find available land for the former slaves. By early 1879, the "Exodus" to Kansas had begun and Truth "felt such a desire" to witness this "for herself." In September, she and Titus left Battle Creek, expecting to remain in Kansas for only a month. They ended up staying until December to help the confused emigrants find food and shelter as they arrived. 35
When she returned home, Frances Titus solicited food and supplies for the destitute refugees She placed a notice in the Nightly Moon in February 1880 announcing that:
Packages for the suffering colored people in Kansas can be left at Thompson's store. Most anything will be acceptable -- all kinds of vegetables, beans, wheat, seeds or anything that the poor people can use. Donations will be thankfully received by Mrs. F. Titus, who will ship to Kansas by Wednesday the 25th. 36
Two days later, another article reminded citizens that:
Frances Titus had developed an intense personal interest in the fate of the refugees and wished to return to Kansas to assist the resettlement. However, Sojourner Truth's health was failing and she needed her help more than ever. During this period, Titus "managed [Truth's] correspondence, and [saw] to her physical wants with a faithfulness which challenges admiration." 38
The ulcers on her legs returned and by early fall she was confined to her home. She was cared for by her daughters, Diana and Elizabeth, as well as by Frances Titus. The doctors from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, including Dr. Kellogg himself, treated her condition. 39 On November 17, 1883, a local newspaper noted:
Newspaper bulletins kept the public aware of Sojourner's condition. Two days before she died, the report was that:
Sojourner Truth died two days later, on November 26, 1883. Her death was widely reported and tributes were received from public figures around the country. However, her hometown newspapers were not to be outdone in rhetoric in marking her passing:
As Sojourner had requested, the funeral service was held at the Congregational Church in downtown Battle Creek. The ceremony was one of the biggest in the city's history.
The Rev. Reed Stuart presided and her "anti-slavery friend" from Detroit, Giles Stebbins, also spoke "of the rare qualities of head and heart which he knew her to possess." 44
In the years after Sojourner's death, Frances Titus sought to place a tombstone on Sojourner's grave. She made a public appeal for funds and collected about $44, which was put towards a marker erected in 1890 by Shafer Brothers Marble Works. 45
In 1884 she also issued a posthumous edition of the Narrative which included a memorial chapter, entitled In Memoriam, Sojourner Truth, Born, In Ulster County, State of New York, Sometime in the Eighteenth Century. Died, in the City of Battle Creek, Michigan, November 26, 1883. The chapter included obituaries, tributes and poetry which Titus received from around the country. On the last page, Titus printed Sojourner's favorite song, "We are going home."
Continuing in her efforts to preserve Sojourner's memory, in 1892 Titus engaged Franklin C. Courter of nearby Albion College to paint a picture of the meeting between Truth and Abraham Lincoln. Titus paid the artist a total of $100, in seven installments between February and December 1893. She had "cabinet size" (4 x 6 inches) copies made by local photographer, Frank Perry, which she sold for twenty-five cents each. 46
This painting has become one of the most familiar images of Sojourner Truth that we know today. But the painting was almost lost to posterity.
Thankfully, Frank Perry's photograph remained.
In the winter of 1893, Frances Titus's health began to fail. She developed "some form of Bright's disease" which made her an invalid for many months before her death on April 21, 1894. Despite the suffering caused by the progressive nature of the disease, the newspaper reported that:
Her funeral was held at her home, 113 Maple Street, 49 and was "largely attended by her old friends and neighbors." The Rev. Reed Stuart, who had conducted Sojourner Truth's service, also delivered the eulogy for Frances Titus. She was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. 50
Throughout her life, Frances Titus worked for the welfare of others, helping those in need, trying to reform social injustice when she found it. In the florid language of the period, this memorial tribute sums up her outlook on life.
Endnotes1. Titus, Frances, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Boston, published for the author, 1875, p. 256. 2. unidentified Battle Creek newspaper, "In Memoriam," April 21, 1894, Coller Collection, Local History Collection, Willard Public Library, Battle Creek, Michigan. 3. Samuel Titus decided to remodel the family residence in 1890, but could not bear to tear the house down. He saved two of the original rooms and built around them. His bedroom was the room in which he was born and the living room beneath was the original sitting room. The Battle Creek Daily Moon noted on October 11, 1890, that "the Sam Titus residence on Maple Street is nearing completion, and the work of finishing the interior will soon be commenced." Samuel was a lover of nature and flowers and created a beautiful floral display in his back yard in 1915.
Mr. Titus estimates that he has about 75 varieties of peonies and about 100 varieties of roses, though he hasn't counted them lately. The peonies are especially attractive, just now, as they are in fullest bloom. They are in all the colors known to peonies, from pure white to a crimson so dark it is almost purple. In the same garden with the peonies is a great bed of scarlet poppies and long rows of iris, in yellow and white and purple and pale blue, add new colors to the floral kaleidoscope. Battle Creek Enquirer, June 15, 1915.4. unidentified Battle Creek newspaper, "Pioneer of City Moves from House He Built Years Ago in Oat Field," September 22, 1924. Coller Collection. 5. Thornton, Frances, "Down by the Old Mill Stream," Heritage Battle Creek, volume 2, spring 1992, pp. 6-11. and Roberts, E. W., Pioneer Days in old Battle Creek, Battle Creek, Central National Bank and Trust Company, 1931. pp. 13-14. 6. Battle Creek Journal, "Battle Creek and Its Businesses," September 7, 1855. 7. A petition for dissolution of partnership was filed on March 12, 1923, with Harry P. Lewis, receiver. By May 1924, the mill was closed to settle accounts, and never reopened. It was bought by F. J. Skidmore & Son in July 1929 and was used for storage by the United Steel and Wire Company. The mill was razed in May 1944. 8. Mabee, Carlton, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet Legend, New York, N.Y., University Press, 1993, p. 147. 9. Mabee, op.cit., p. 146. 10. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, "Never What?," February 19, 1880. 11. Titus, Frances, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Boston, published for the author, 1875, p. 275. 12. "In Memoriam," April 21, 1894. 13. Battle Creek Journal, "Handsome Testimonial," January 2, 1868. 14. The other speakers at the Friends of Human Progress Meeting held on October 4-5, 1856, were Joel Tiffany of Ohio, Joseph A. Dugdale of Pennsylvania, Henry C. Wright of Boston and Andrew T. Foss of New Hampshire. Battle Creek Journal, "Notice," October 3, 1856. 15. Mabee, op.cit., p. 201. 16. Battle Creek Harbinger of Peace, January 20, 1970. 17. In the spring of 1871 the first two women actually had their votes counted in an election in the state of Michigan. They were Nanette Gardner of Detroit and Mary Wilson of Battle Creek . This daring act caused great turmoil around the state. Grimm, Joe, ed. Michigan Voices, Our State's History in the Words of the People Who Lived it. Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1987, p. 66-66. 18. The wives of the city's business and industrial leaders were among the members of the executive committee, including Mrs.C.M. Crosby, Mrs. John Meachem, Mrs. Henry Loomis, Mrs. R. B. Merritt. Several men also served, including A. C. Hamblin and T. B. Skinner. 19. Battle Creek Journal, April 13, 1870. 20. See "Ann Graves: A Forgotten Suffragist," Heritage Battle Creek, vol 8. fall 1997 pp. 51-57. 21. Battle Creek Daily Journal, "Mrs. Stanton," May 18, 1874. 22. Battle Creek Daily Journal, "Grand Mass Meeting," and "Woman Suffrage," July 29, 1874, and "Impartial Suffrage," August 5, 1874. 23. Sojourner Truth chose Stebbins to speak at her funeral. 24. The first place where women were granted unlimited suffrage was in the Territory of Wyoming in 1869. Despite strong pressure from anti-suffrage interests, the governor signed the bill, largely influenced by his memory of the women's right convention he had attended in Salem, Ohio, many years earlier.
For more information on suffrage in the west, see Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle, Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1959. pp. 156-63.25. "Impartial Suffrage," August 5, 1874. 26. Mabee, op.cit., p. 210. The "horse doctor" was Orville Guiteau, according to Berenice Lowe, Tales of Battle Creek, Battle Creek, Albert .L. and Louise B. Miller Foundation, Inc., and the Historical Society of Battle Creek, 1976. p. 241. 27. see note 1. 28. Mabee, op.cit.,p. 203. 29. For fuller discussion of these changes, see Mabee, op.cit., pp. 121-22, 203. 30. unidentified Battle Creek newspaper, "The Life of Sojourner Truth," July 6, 1878. Martich Black History Collection, Local History Collection, Willard Public Library, Battle Creek, Michigan. 31. Titus issued two more editions of the Narrative, in 1881 and 1884. The last version, published soon after Truth's death, included A Memorial Chapter Giving the Particulars of her Last Sickness and Death. In this edition, Titus returned to the title of the 1875 tome but used the preface to the 1878 volume. This book was printed by the Review and Herald, a Seventh-day Adventist press in Battle Creek. 32. Mabee, op.cit., pp. 202, 211. 33. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, February 20, 1880. 34. Letter from Samuel Titus to Frances Titus, April 21, 1879, from the collection of the author. 35. Mabee, op.cit., p. 204. For more information on the "Exodusters, " see Nell Irvin Painter's book, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction. New York, W. W. Norton & Co., 1992. 36. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, February 22, 1880. 37. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, February 24, 1880. 38. Battle Creek Sanitarium, Good Health Magazine, February 18, 1883, p. 52. 39. Battle Creek Enquirer News, "Dr. Kellogg Tells of Grafting Skin on Sojourner Truth's Leg," June 12, 1932. 40. Battle Creek Citizen, November 17, 1883. 41. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, "Sojourner Truth: A Visit to the Death Bed of the Noted Libyan Sibyl," November 24, 1883. 42. Battle Creek Daily Journal, "Sojourner Truth," November 26, 1883. 43. Titus, Frances, Narrative, 1884 edition, "In Memoriam" section, pp. 9-10. 44. op.cit., pp. 10-11. 45. Painter, Nell Irvin, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, New York, W.W.Norton & Co., 1996. p. 259. 46. Receipts of funds paid to Courter, archives of the Historical Society of Battle Creek. 47. Battle Creek Enquirer, "Mainly about Folks," April 21, 1940. 48. See note 2. 49. The Titus home at 113 Maple Street (now Capital Avenue NE) was later bought by the First Presbyterian Church in 1924 as a future site for their new church. The home was torn down early in 1927 when the Presbyterians began the erection of their present church. 50. See note 2. When Frances Titus was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Samuel had his father, Richard, and infant brother, RIchard, Jr., disinterred from the old Quaker cemetery in Quaker Park and moved to lot #862 in Oak Hill. 51. See note 2.