Sojourner Truth: ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’

In the midst of celebrating black excellence for Black History Month, I can’t help but think of the defiant African-American feminist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth. After fleeing from slavery with her youngest daughter in 1826, Truth devoted her life to the abolition movement, tirelessly campaigning to end slavery. She joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in 1844 and toured the United States with them, making countless speeches about slavery and human rights. During her career as an activist, she encountered many of the leading abolitionists including Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Truth even met with Abraham Lincoln at the White House during the American Civil War. In her autobiography, ‘Narrative of Sojourner Truth, she recalls moments from their meeting:

As I was taking my leave, he arose and took my hand, and said he would be pleased to have me call again. I felt that I was in the presence of a friend, and I now thank God from the bottom of my heart that I always have advocated his cause, and have done it openly and boldly. I shall feel still more in duty bound to do so in time to come.”

Ultimately, Truth is most widely remembered for her iconic ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851. It not only challenged slavery but also highlighted the idiocy of society’s double standards – in relation to gender, race and religion. It stresses how African-American women were not just discriminated for their race but for their gender too. Her speech displayed a profound defiance against the dreadful oppression in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her powerful speech is undoubtedly a wider reflection of the courage and determination of many African-Americans, hence remaining hugely influential today.



‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech by Sojourner Truth (1851)


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.”


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