Sojourner Truth delivered her Aint I a Woman? speech in 1851 at the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her short, simple speech was a powerful rebuke to many antifeminist arguments of the day. It became, and continues to serve, as a classic expression of womens rights. Truth became, and still is today, a symbol of strong women.
Named Isabella Van Wagenen, Truth was born into slavery in New York in 1797. She was freed in 1827 under the New York Antislavery Law (although slavery was not abolished nationwide until much later). She had five children, some of whom were taken away from her and sold. After becoming free, she lived for some time with a Quaker family who provided her with an education.
Isabella became a Pentecostal preacher and an outspoken abolitionist and supporter of womens rights. She traveled throughout the northeast and midwest, speaking publicly and (famously) singing her message as well. In 1843, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth.
In 1851, Truth attended the Womens Rights Convention in Ohio. According to Frances Gage, the president of the Convention, on the second day several male ministers showed up and argued that women should not have the same rights as men. The ministers reasoning: women were weak, men were intellectually superior to women, Jesus was a man, and our first mother sinned.
Sojourner Truth rose and (amidst protests from some of the women who feared shed talk about abolition) delivered her short, masterful speech -- invoking tenets of Christianity and using her strong, imposing presence to debunk the ministers arguments. Pointing to her well-muscled arms and referring to the hard work she performed as a slave, she allegedly declared, and ain't I a woman? As to the argument that Jesus was a man, she responded: Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. And turning the sin of Eve argument on its head, she lectured, 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! By all accounts, as Truth spoke, the crowd in the church rose and wildly applauded.
Several versions of Truths famous speech exist today. The most famous is an 1863 account of the speech as remembered by Frances Gage. However, newspaper reports of the speech at the time of the Convention relay a different version. Some believe that Gage changed the speech so that Truth would sound more like a Southern slave. In fact, Truth did not speak in a Southern style, having been born in New York and speaking Dutch until age 9. Both versions of the speech are included below.
As recounted by Frances Gage, in 1863
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
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 ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed 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 it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' 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?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? 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, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
As reported in the Anti-Slavery Bugle, Salem, Ohio, June 21, 1851
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.