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America's History in the Making

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Speech given by Sojourner Truth

Transcription of a speech given by Sojourner Truth, excerpted from the Proceedings of the Woman's Rights Convention held at the Broadway Tabernacle, in the city of New York, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 6th and 7th, 1853.

I was a-thinkin', when I saw women contending for their rights, I was a-thinkin' what a difference there is now, and what there was in old times. I have only a few minutes to speak; but in the old times, the kings of the earth would hear a woman. There was a king in old times, in the Scriptures; and then it was like the kings of the earth would kill a woman if she came into their presence: but Queen Esther came forth, for she was oppressed, and felt there was a great wrong, and she said I will die or I will bring my complaint before the king. Should the king of the United States be greater, or more crueller, or more harder? But the king, he raised up his sceptre and said, 'Thy request shall be granted unto thee—to the half of my kingdom will I grant it to thee!' Then he said he would hang Haman on the gallows he had made up high. But that is not what women came forward to contend. The women want their rights, as Esther. She only wanted to explain her rights. And he was so liberal that he said, 'the half of my kingdom shall be granted to thee,' and he did not wait for her to ask, he was so liberal with her. Now women do not ask half of a kingdom, but their rights, and they don't get them. When she comes to demand them, don't you hear how sons hiss their mothers, like snakes, because they ask for their rights; and can they ask for any thing less? The king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows which he prepared to hang others; but I do not want any man to be killed, but I am sorry to see them so short minded.

But we'll have our rights; see if we don't: and you can't stop us from them; see if you can. You may hiss as much as you like, but it is comin'. Women don't get half a much rights as they ought to; we want more, and we will have it. Jesus says, 'What I say to one, I say to all—watch!' I'm a-watchin'. God says, 'honor your father and your mother.' Sons and daughters ought to behave themselves before their mothers, but they do not. I can see them a-laughin', and pointin' at their mothers up here on the stage. They hiss when an aged woman comes forth. If they'd been brought up proper they'd have known better than hissing like snakes and geese. I'm 'round watchin' these things, and I wanted to come up and say these few things to you, and I'm glad of the hearin' you gave me. I wanted to tell you a mite about Woman's Rights, and so I came out and said so. I am sittin' among you to watch; and every once and awhile I will come out and tell you what time of night it is."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 1 (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881), 76-7.

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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