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America's History in the Making

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Sojourner Truth

Frances Gage's account of a speech given by Sojourner Truth at the Women's Rights Convention, 1851, in Akron, Ohio.

"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man when I could get it and bear de lash a well! And a'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?

"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.

Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now old Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 1 (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881), 134-35.

Creator Sojourner Truth
Context Sojourner Truth was a determined abolitionist and women's rights advocate.
Audience For the speeches, the audience was those in the room when she spoke
Purpose To persuade listeners to her point of view

Historical Significance

Concern over slavery often led to a sensitivity to how women were oppressed. Sojourner Truth was one of the most determined and outspoken advocates of both reforms though some white advocates of women's rights felt that black women should not speak at "their" conventions.

Born as Isabella, a slave in New York state, she escaped from slavery in 1827, one year before the state abolished it. She worked as a domestic to support her young children and joined a religious commune. Commanded by God to travel and preach in 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. Blessed with a low and powerful voice, Truth was a compelling speaker.

English was not Truth's first language and she could not read. We are left with other people's accounts of her speeches. The first account was written, perhaps from memory, some thirty years after Truth spoke. The writer, Frances Gate, chaired the 1851 Women's Rights Convention, at which Truth gave this speech. The second account was transcribed at the time of Truth's 1853 speech in New York City.

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