Sojourner Truth (1797–1883) (then known as Isabel Baumfree) was born into slavery in upstate New York. At age twenty-eight she escaped with the help of a white family who subsequently offered to reimburse her master for a year of her lost labor; in 1827 she became legally free. Always religious, in 1843 she experienced a vision of the Lord commanding her to “sojourn” through the nation spreading the “truth” of the gospel. After her ministry began, she referred to herself as Sojourner Truth. Her oratorical skills were impressive, and her preaching extremely poignant; she often applied a commonsense reading of the Bible to antebellum reform questions, including both abolition and woman’s rights. By 1851 Truth was a national celebrity: her attendance and participation in the Women Rights Convention that year would have been both expected and anticipated.
In 1863, women’s rights activist Frances Gage published an account of the speech from memory that recast Truth’s words in a heavy southern slave dialect. Gage’s version included the phrase “Ain’t I a woman?,” and this version is the one most often reprinted. We have chosen to reprint Marcus Robinson’s account of the speech not only because it is more contemporaneous with the event, but also because it seems more likely to have reflected Truth’s true cadences as a northerner from a heavily Dutch area of New York, her renown as a public speaker, and her other published works.
Source: Marcus Robinson, “Account of the Women’s Rights Convention,” Anti-Slavery Bugle 6, no. 41(June 21, 1851), 160.
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 to 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 gestures, and listened to her strong and truthful tones. She came forward to the platform and addressing the president 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 a 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 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 can’t take more than our pint’ll 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 they won’t be so much trouble. I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.
The lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part? But the women are coming up, blessed be God, and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.