Ain't I a woman?
Sojourner Truth's famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech has become
a classic expression of women's rights.
Here's how it went down....
Several ministers attended the second day of the Woman's Rights Convention, and
were not shy in voicing their opinion of man's superiority over women. One claimed
"superior intellect", one spoke of the "manhood of Christ," and still another referred to
the "sin of our first mother."
Suddenly, Sojourner Truth rose from her seat in the corner of the church.
"For God's sake, Mrs.Gage, don't let her speak!" half a dozen women whispered
loudly, fearing that their cause would be mixed up with Abolition.
Sojourner walked to the podium and slowly took off her sunbonnet.
Her six-foot frame towered over the audience. She began to speak in her
deep, resonant voice:
"Well, children, where there is so much racket, there must be something
out of kilter, I think between the Negroes of the South and the women of
the North - all talking about rights - the white men will be in a fix pretty
soon. But what's all this talking about?"
Sojourner pointed to one of the ministers.
"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages,
and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody
helps me any best place. And ain't I a woman?"
Sojourner raised herself to her full height. "Look at me! Look at my arm."
She bared her right arm and flexed her powerful muscles.
"I have plowed, I have planted and I have gathered into barns. And no man
could head me. And ain't I a woman?"
"I could work as much, and eat as much as man - when I could get it -
and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman?
I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery,
and when I cried out with a mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me.
And ain't I a woman?"
The women in the audience began to cheer wildly.
She pointed to another minister. "He talks about this thing in the head.
What's that they call it?"
"Intellect," whispered a woman nearby.
"That's it, honey. What's intellect got to do with women's rights or black
folks' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint and yours holds a quart,
wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?"
"That little man in black there! He says women can't have as much rights
as men. ‘Cause Christ wasn't a woman. She stood with outstretched arms
and eyes of fire. "Where did your Christ come from?"
"Where did your Christ come from?", she thundered again.
"From God and a Woman! Man had nothing to do with him!"
The entire church now roared with deafening applause.
"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn
the world upside down all alone, these women together ought
to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again.
And now that they are asking to do it the men better let them."
A Contemporaneous Account
From the Anti-Slavery Bugle, Salem, Ohio, June 21, 1851.
"One of the most unique and interesting speeches of the Convention was made by
Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave. It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or
convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience. Those only can
appreciate it who saw her powerful form, her whole-souled, earnest gesture, and
listened to her strong and truthful tones. She came forward to the platform and
addressing the President (Frances Gage) said with great simplicity:
May I say a few words? Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded;
I want to say a few words about this matter. I am for woman's rights. I have as much
muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped
and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have
heard much about the sexes being equal;
I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it.
I am as strong as any man that is now.
As for intellect, all I can say is, if woman have a pint and a man a quart --
why can't she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear
we will take too much -- for we won't take more than our pint will hold.
The poor men seem to be all in confusion and don't know what to do.
Why children, if you have woman's rights give it to her and you will feel better.
You will have your own rights, and there won't be so much trouble.
Sojourner Truth gave her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the
1851 Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
(The women's rights movement grew in large part out of the anti-slavery movement.) No
formal record of the speech exists, but Frances Gage, an abolitionist and president of
the Convention, recounted Truth's words.
There is debate about the accuracy of this account because Gage did not record the
account until 1863 and her record differs somewhat from newspaper accounts of 1851.
However it is Gage's report that endures and it is clear that, whatever the exact words,
"Ain't I a Woman?" made a great impact at the Convention and has become
a classic expression of women's rights.
Ain't I a Woman?
This is a poem from Sojourner Truth's most famous speech, adapted into poetic form
by Erlene Stetson click here to see the full text of the speech, in non-poem format.
That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place. . .
And ain't I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me. . .
And ain't I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man--
when I could get to it--
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?
I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain't I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it right side up again
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"It was as though the life she'd
known up till then belonged to
A new one was beginning. The old
life had become a tale to tell, a
story to bring freedom to others.
Her old name belonged to her old
life. From that day on, she was
never called Isabella again. Her
name was Sojourner Truth."
There is a great stir about
colored men getting their
rights, but not a word about
the colored women; and if
colored men get their
rights, and not colored
women theirs, you see the
colored men will be
masters over the women,
and it will be just as bad as
it was before. So I am for
keeping the thing going
while things are stirring;
because if we wait till it is
still, it will take a great while
to get it going again.
~ Sojourner Truth
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