Ain't I a Woman?

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Ain't I a Woman?

Sojourner Truth, 1851

Sojourner Truth was a nineteenth-century African American evangelist who embraced abolitionism and women's rights. A charismatic speaker, she became one of the best-known abolitionists of her day. Born a slave and given the name Isabella Baumfree, she was freed in 1828 when a New York law abolished slavery within the state.

In 1843 she had a religious experience and came to believe that God had commanded her to travel beyond New York to spread the Christian gospel. She took the name Sojourner Truth and traveled throughout the eastern states as an evangelist. Truth soon became acquainted with the abolitionist movement and its leaders. She adopted their message, speaking out against slavery. Her speaking tours expanded as abolitionists realized her effectiveness as a lecturer. Though illiterate, she dictated her life story, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and sold the book at her lectures as a means of supporting herself.

In the early 1850s, she met leaders of the emerging women's rights movement, most notably Lucretia Mott. Truth recognized the connection between the inferior legal status of African Americans and women in general. Her most famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman?" first given in 1851, challenged cultural beliefs, including the natural inferiority of women, and biblical justifications for the second-class status of women.

Ain't I a Woman?

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.

References in periodicals archive ?
James' The Black Jacobins, John Blassingame's The Slave Community or Lawrence Levine's Black Culture and Black Consciousness, Deborah Gray White's, Ar'n't I a Woman? or Nell Irvin Painter's Sojourner Truth (or, even, perhaps Gutman's Black Family) apart from a discussion about "agency," which overcodes their complex discussions of human subjectivity and political organization and presses them into the background of a persistently mis-posed question: African-American slaves: agents or of their own destiny or not?
Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York, 1977); Deborah Gray White, Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York, 1985); Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: a Life, a Symbol (New York, 1996); Herbert G.
In 1851, Sojourner Truth appeared at a woman's rights convention held in Akron, Ohio, and offered a speech that contained the phrase "Ar'n't I a woman?" - a phrase that in contemporary America has become the symbolic mark of her life and work.
In her examination of the Akron speech, Painter confirms an earlier analysis by Carleton Mabee and Susan Mabee Newhouse (Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend), concluding that Sojourner Truth most likely did not say "Ar'n't I a woman?" Their analysis is based on comparing the report of the 1851 Akron meeting written by Frances Gage twelve years later with twenty-seven eyewitness reports published shortly following the event.