Elizabeth Freeman/Elisabeth Freeman
While these two women share the same name, their lives could not have been more different. However they both fought for equality and both deserve to be remembered.
Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman (1744?-1829) was born into slavery in the colony of New York decades before the American Revolution. She moved to Sheffield, Massachusetts when her mistress married Colonel John Ashley. In 1773, Ashley helped draft the Sheffield Declaration which stated that “mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property.” Similar language was used in both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the State Constitution of Massachusetts (1780). Bett and a male slave named Brom asked prominent lawyer Theodore Sedgwick who had also helped draft the Sheffield Declaration to help win their freedom through the courts using the Massachusetts State Constitution. It was both a challenge and a test case for Sedgwick and Ashley fought to keep Bett and Brom enslaved. In the groundbreaking case Brom and Bett v. Ashley, they legally won their freedom. She changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman. Ashley offered her work as a paid servant but she chose employment as a domestic at the Sedgwick household. She became a prominent healer, midwife, and nurse and was eventually able to buy her own home. She is the only non-Sedgwick buried in the “inner circle” of the family plot in Stockbridge, MA.
Elisabeth Freeman, also sometimes spelled Elizabeth Freeman (1876-1942) was born in England and came to America around the age of 4. She worked in both the British and the American Suffrage Movements. Most famously, she was part of General Rosalie Jones’ suffrage hikers who marched in the 1913 Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C. (Episode 62b) and famously smoked in public during a banquet as a defiant act (which was featured in a Virginia Slims “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign). She championed worker rights. As a suffragist she included talking about women of color. She helped the NAACP investigate lynchings in Waco Texas in 1916, and spoke out against racism. She also worked as a peace advocate. Her activities were intertwined with almost every progressive movement that happened during her lifetime. Below is a link to a scrapbook of her many accomplishments.
This is information from the National Women’s History Museum about African-American Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman
Information from the same source about white suffragist Elisabeth/Elizabeth Freeman
Despite the misspelling,this website is an interactive scrapbook of Elisabeth/Elizabeth, the white suffragist.
And this one is a website also about Elisabeth/Elizabeth the white suffragist