Sojourner Truth and her 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman?"

Photograph of Sojourner Truth taken c. 1864.
Photograph of Sojourner Truth taken c. 1864. | Source

1797 - 1883

I would be remiss if I did not tell you about Sojourner Truth and her great and eloquent speech she gave on women's rights right here in Akron, OH. She traveled here in 1851, and in downtown Akron, OH gave one of the most important speeches on women's rights and blazed a trail of history from here that took her to the heights of power, a meeting with a President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.

Who would have thought that an African-American slave girl of land owners in New York state would rise up and become the foundation of the women's rights movement and the abolitionist movement and work hard and fiercely for the freedom of slaves and women's rights during her lifetime?

It took a strong, independent, and spunky woman to accomplish all that and that is just how Sojourner Truth was from her days as an owned slave, to her flight to freedom, and her tireless work as a public speaker and servant to those she understood the most - women and African - American slaves.

However, one of the saddest aspects of all this is the two different versions of her famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman?", and the incorrect version of the speech that has been handed down and recorded in American history.

The Sojourner Truth Building on High Street in Akron, OH.  This is the building where Truth gave her speech, "Ain't I a Woman?"
The Sojourner Truth Building on High Street in Akron, OH. This is the building where Truth gave her speech, "Ain't I a Woman?" | Source
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Other Speeches by Sojourner Truth

  • Mob Convention, September 7, 1853
  • American Equal Rights Association, May 9-10, 1867
  • Eighth Anniversary of Negro Freedom, New Year's Day, 1871

In these three speeches she gave at these conventions, she again made her plea for equal rights for women. She was a devout Christian and in these three speeches she also invoked stories from the Bible to support her arguments for equal rights. Sojourner Truth never stopped working and speaking out on behalf of all women, white or African-American.

"Ain't I a Woman?" - Akron, OH 1851

Truth gave an extemporaneous speech at the convention, because she was unable to read and write, and therefore, she had no prepared script before her. But, she was eloquent and dignified and spoke in a strong voice.

In the speech she reminded everyone that she was capable of doing any work a man could do. So why couldn't women have equal rights to that of a man? She then talked about women's intellect. According to Truth, man has a quart of it (intellect) and woman has a pint of it. She continued by saying, we (women) can't take more rights than our pint can hold.

She even empathized with men. She admited that man was in a tight place, the poor slave was coming on him and woman was coming on him and she said man was surely between a hawk and a buzzard. But, she encouraged men to give women equal rights, because women would not try to take more than their fair share. Her arguments were logical and coherent.

The Ohio Women's Rights Convention was organized by Hannah Tracy and Frances Dana Barker Gage. Both were present when Truth gave her speech. But, two completely different versions of Truth's speech have been recorded. One by Gage, herself, and one by Marius Robinson.

Marius Robinson was a newspaper owner and editor and also the recording secretary for the organization at the convention. His recounting of the speech, published several weeks later in his publication, Anti-Slavery Bugle, does not once include the famous question, "Ain't I a Woman?" let alone record Truth saying it four times during her extemporaneous speech.

Gage wrote her version of the speech twelve years later (1863) and she published a very different version of the speech. She gave Truth the speech pattern and the characteristics of Southern slaves and included sentences and phrases that Robinson didn't report. Gage's version of the speech became the historic version and is known as "Ain't I a Woman?" because the question was repeated four times throughout her version of the speech.

What Robinson recorded was Truth asking, "....can any man do more than that?" and "Man, where was your part?"

Following are several of the first sentences from Sojourner's speech. The first is Marius Robinson's version:

"I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a women'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?...."

This is Frances Dana Barker Gage's version:

"Wall, chilem, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out 'o kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de n*****s of de souf and de womin at de norf, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin' bout?...."

Remember, Truth was born, raised and lived her life in the north - New York and Michigan. She spoke only Dutch until she was nine years old and then began speaking English. If anything, she would have had a Dutch accent, not a Southern slave accent.

It is a shame that the Gage's version of her speech is handed down in history. I have researched this speech and it is the Gage version that is the official version of the speech on the internet and in history books. Of course, it includes the line, "Ain't I a Woman?", but according the Robinson, she never said the line.

It is also a shame, because Sojourner Truth spoke so eloquently, intelligently and so well. She presented a coherent and unified argument for women's rights and the Southern slave accent and speech characteristics were not hers and do not define who Sojourner Truth really was.

Robinson's version was the first complete transcription of the speech published on June 21, 1851 in the Anti Slavery Bugle.

Gage's 1863 recollection of the conveention conflicts with her own report directly after the convention. In 1851, she reported that the audience and press were friendly towards the women's rights convention. By 1863, she claimed Truth was met with hisses and voices calling to prevent her from speaking.

And, the press in those days did not work like today. Reporters did not receive the written speech the person was to give, before the convention even began. Plus, Truth spoke extemporaneously and had nothing written down because she was unable to read or write.

Her later life

After her famous speech in Akron, OH, Truth worked with Maruis Robinson and traveled around the state of Ohio speaking from 1851-53. Truth had made a name for herself during her speech. That she traveled and spoke with Marius Robinson is further proof that her speech was characterized and quoted correctly in his newspaper.

In 1858, when she was speaking, someone interrupted her speech and accused her of being a man. In response, Truth opened her blouse and showed him her breasts. That is a spunky response.

The remainder of Truth's life, she spoke on women's issues and fought unsuccessfully for land grants from the federal government for former slaves. She met with President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House to personally give her requests to him.

In 1872, Truth tried to vote in the presidential election but was turned away at the polling place. She continued to speak up abouat abolition, women's rights, prison reform and against capital punishment. She was a woman ahead of her time. In later life she made her home in Battle Creek, Michigan.

During her touring and speaking engagements her staunch supporters always rallied around her and were such notables as Susan B. Anthonyh, Lucretia Mott, and William Lloyd Garrison. They loyally stood by her all during her life. She died in November 1883 at her home in Battle Creek, MI and was buried in her family plot at Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek.

Sources:

en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ain't I a Woman?

"Sojourner Truth Page" American Suffragist Movement Archived.

"Sojourner Truth Page" Fordham University Archived.

Copyright (c) Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved


Last photo taken of Sojourner Truth before she died.
Last photo taken of Sojourner Truth before she died. | Source

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Comments 20 comments

Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

That is amazing. In the times when afro-american people were not relevantly treated she was not only afraid but eager to fight for her rights. She must have been a sample for many people that time and she would be so popular if she lived now!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Pavlo: I think she is a great woman and had the guts and fortitude to speak out for women of all colors in our nation to have equal rights. She was far ahead of her time. She was a gutsy lady who believed in herself and was determined to speak the truth. We all can learn from her. Thanks for reading this and for your visit!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

She was a wonderfully intuitive lady and very brave. I have a copy of Ain't I A Woman? and love it. She also went to court to have her son returned to her. He had illegally been sold as a slave and she refused to allow him to live and die in slavery. She walked barefoot ten miles one way and then back again to see an attorney. That entire story is amazing in itself. Then to think she traveled so much preaching and teaching. She changed the face of slavery and women's rights forever. Thanks for bringing her back into the spotlight where she deserves to remain.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hyphen: Thank you so much for reading this. I appreciate your comments. I drive by the building where she gave her speech all the time and finally I though, I should do a hub on her. So I hopped out of the car and took the photos of the building. I do know those great stories about her, which were originally in this hub, but I had a hard time getting it by the HP staff. They claimed duplicate material, so I finally just deleted it. I guess I'm fortunate they allowed this much. I'm not complaining, I'm just frustrated! She was an amazing woman. The fortitude she had! I have enjoyed reading the stories of the slave women you have done and they have been so inspiring. Here I am looking at history right in my own backyard with this building and I finally thought I have to do a hub on her. Thank you so much for your insightful comments, Hyphen. They do mean alot.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

..I will post this most essential hub presentation for all of humanity to witness/see/read at the Music and Writing FB group because your research and this lady's story is music to my ears.

I always love how you make every hub a labor of love and it's so intoxicating and enlightening for your readers - especially when it's a 'new story' for someone like me and I am here in your 'front row' learning and being a most willing and receptive student Suzette.

Sending you warm wishes and good thoughts as always on this Sunday morning from lake erie time 10:00am

Will send this 'beauty of a hub' to Miss B.


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Her name alone, Suzette, sounds like it rose from the hopes of her parents. I imagine that her spunkiness came from more than her genetics, and I like to think her upbringing instilled her courage, sense of right and wrong, fairness and motivation for freedom. I am certain she saw her family hurt and mistreated, stoking the embers that burned inside her for rightful equality. And, just like we see today, in our vast scope of unrelenting communications, the media's slant creates much confusion, distortion and misinterpretation.

Your magnificent tribute to Sojourner Truth, complete with your own photography, Suzette, is an inspirational revelation to honor the truth and I can feel the spirit of Sojourner Truth glowing in your words...one courageous woman to another...you.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Epi: You are so kind and funny! Thanks so much for reading this. Sojourner Truth and Akron crossed paths so many years ago, I nearly forgot it. I drive by the building all the time, forgetting that women's rights started right there/here in Akron. Her eloquent speech started it all. She was a courageous woman in many ways and should never be forgotten. Warm wishes right back at you, Epi. The days are cold and crisp now, here in Akron. Take care and thanks for your support!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks, Amy for your insightful comments. Actually, she was born Isabella Baumfree and changed her name to Sojourner Truth herself when she had her ephiphany in, I believe 1843. It was then that she felt God called her to a higher calling than that of housekeeper - that she had to work to abolish slavery throughout the entire country and to fight for all women's rights in this country. I had all this originally in the article, but the HP gods made me remove it - no matter how I rewrote it they kept saying it was duplicate. Anyway, because she was illiterate, she became an activist speaker on behalf of those who couldn't speak out. However, she was smart enough to speak two languages, Dutch and English. It has always irritated me that the speech was altered by Frances Gage and this is the one that went down in history - Truth was so eloquent in her words and comes off sounding so dumb in the version Gage wrote. I suppose Gage thought she was helping the cause for the southern slaves, but it is sad what the media does to our messages, even today. They always put their slant or bias in everything they write. But that is another issue. Thanks so much for reading this, Amy and I know you realize Truth's great work and cause.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

suzettenaples you and Hyphen are on similar historical tracks. And such an important track it is.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

mckbirdsbks: Thanks so much for your comment. Truth gave her speech in Akron, OH which is where I am from so I thought it fitting to do a hub on her. Thanks for the visit and your interest.


Sojurnertruth NYC profile image

Sojurnertruth NYC 2 years ago

Hi Suzettenples.

Interesting post on Sojournertruth.

For more information on this wonderful person who named herself Sojournertruth you can visit the web site clash of the Prophets.

The New York years were so very important however for the most part they have been over looked. Now it’s your chance to find out what really did happen!

Sojournertruth and her time in New York is just amazing!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

SojounertruthNYC: I hope you found this interesting. Yes, her NY years are amazing and she did so much to help all women in the U.S. during her time. My hometown, Akron, happens to be where she made this important speech and so I had to write about it and make it the focus of the article. But, as she went on to NY to speak and rally women for her cause she was just as important as her time in Akron. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.


Sojurnertruth NYC profile image

Sojurnertruth NYC 2 years ago

Hi again Suzettenaples.

You have done a great job for yourself and your home town of Akron. Thank you for writing this.

May be I should give you the e-mail address so that you and your friends can receive Free chapters from the new book. the Sojournertruth information and view point is amazing!

the e-mail is clashoftheprophets@gmail.com

I hope that this helps in some way.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Sojurnertruth NYC: Thank you so much for your information and I appreciate it. I am glad you enjoyed my article and thank you for reading and commenting.


Me Clash Prophets profile image

Me Clash Prophets 18 months ago

Hi again Suzettenaples

It almost been a year since we last talked: I was back them logged in as Sojournertruth NYC. We have been working hard setting up a few items which I believe that you and your readers may find interesting.

From our past contact I know that you Suzettenaples have a real interest in Sojournertruth. You may find this interesting.

Sojournertruth & Matthias

The name Sojournertruth has become established with in the hearts and minds of modern humanity, she is a symbol of freedom, justice, strength and endurance. The established Icon of Sojournertruth helps humanity understand the importance of communication and honesty. The name Sojournertruth is a pseudonym adopted after the point of departure from New York in 1843.

Within the book ‘Clash Of The Prophets, The Beginning’ we read ‘In time and between the years of 1843 and 1850 the evidence, both direct and indirect, confirms the evolution of Isabella's name from "SOJOURNER" into "SOJOURNER TRUTH." The name of "Sojourner truth" was penned by Mr Oliver Gilbert in 1850. When Gilbert penned this name he placed a space between the "SOJOURNER" and the "Truth." In time the name once again evolved and the accepted name for Isabella is now established within the hearts and minds of humanity as "SOJOURNERTRUTH." The name of "SOJOURNERTRUTH" is recognised as a symbol of justice and freedom for all, regardless of nationality, gender, or religion!'

Matthias called himself "the Spirit of truth."

Isabella Van Wagener called herself "Sojournertruth"

After reflection upon the activities within New York Isabella Van Wagener (Sojournertruth) concluded: 'that she had been taking part in a great drama, which was, in itself, but one great system of robbery and wrong.'

The manuscript is perfect for readers who enjoy a true story. Additionally college and university students will find facts presented in a readable enjoyable manner, with all of the required historical references fully presented. The book is a foundation for study, debate and end of term essays involving Sojournertruth and her New York years with Prophet Matthias.

If you like the concept topic: which is a roller-coaster ride of emotions and facts, please will you accept my invitation to find out more with your FREE downloadable informed choices student guide. http://www.clashoftheprophets.com/documents/Inform...

Also you can find more information Free of charge at: https://cld.bz/J7EQAGt

If you want to know even more then you are personally invited to my main web site at: http://www.clashoftheprophets.com/indexmain.html

Suzettenaples you have a great web page, and I trust that you will find some interest and advantage by sharing this communication with all your interested readers, and members. If I can be of any assistance, or if you have any questions then you know how to contact me.

Assuring you of my best attention at all times.

Very best regards.

Mike Wilkins

(Author Clash Of The Prophets The Beginning.)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 18 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Me, So glad you enjoyed this article another time. Thank you for the websites and I will certainly check them out. Sojourner Truth was an amazingly strong woman and orator. Thanks for York insightful comments.


Me Clash Prophets profile image

Me Clash Prophets 18 months ago

Suzettenaples, Together we stand in words and thoughts. You are most welcome as like you I also think that Sojournertruth was amazing in so many ways.

Best regards

from

Mike


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 18 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Me: I checked out your web-sites and they are interesting. The detail provided is amazing. Sojourner Truth certainly lived a remarkable life and she is quite the role model for women then and now.


Me Clash Prophets profile image

Me Clash Prophets 18 months ago

suzettenaples (Hub Author Sojourner Truth and her 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman?")

Thank you so much for your kind words. It is a pleasure to be in communication with you and your readers.

Very best regards

Mike Wilkins

Clash of the Prophets.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 17 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Me Clash Prophets: Thanks so much and I am thrilled you enjoyed my piece on Sojourner Truth. She is well thought of here in Akron, OH.

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