17 January 2007


She smoked until almost the end. As a very old woman, she told Elizabeth Cady Stanton that after years of travel on segregated trains where blacks were relegated to the smoking car, she smoked in self-defense—preferring to swallow her own smoke to another’s.

In her early 70’s, she tried “again” to stop smoking and was in her third smoke-free month, according to a reporter for the National Anti-Slavery Standard, in December of 1868. She renounced alcohol after the religious conversion that launched her onto the road but remained “an inveterate smoker” for years, despite having many friends in the reformist movement against tobacco.

When she went to Washington, DC after the Civil War to work in the Freedmen’s Bureau, she grew uncomfortable with the conflict between her advocacy of thrift, hygiene and self-discipline among the former slaves and her cigarette smoking. She tried then, perhaps for the first time, to quit.

Someone asked her once, “Aunt Sojourner, you smoke, and you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven because there is nothing so unclean as the breath of a smoker. What do you say to that?”

ST: “Why, Brudder Goodrich, I expect to leave my breff behind me when I go to heaven.”

In January 1869, she “wrote” to her friend Amy Post:
I want you to let it be known …[i]t was the Spirit that spoke to me to give up tobacco, and I long had been wishing to do so, but could not, . …I have had no taste or appetite to take it again. The dear Lord has filled the part that longed with His own love and spirit, and now my great prayer is that all who smoke may have the Spirit that spoke to me to work in them to destroy the desire for tobacco.