Abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and temperance advocate Sojourner Truth was born an enslaved person. One of the era’s best-known figures, she was the first Black woman to win a court case against a white man when she won custody of her son after running away.
Due to the fact that Sojourner Truth herself didn’t write down her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, all copies of it are secondhand at best. First published in the Anti-Slavery Bugle on June 21, 1851, it was delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio on May 29, 1851.
Throughout Truth’s public life and remarks, a number of quotations have endured.
Selected Sojourner Truth Quotations
“Aren’t I a woman?”
“The colored men are getting their rights, but there is no word about the colored women; and if they get their rights, but colored women do not, then the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be as bad as before. In this case, I believe that we should keep it going while it is stirring; if we wait until it is still, it will take a long time to revive it.” (Equal Rights Convention, New York, 1867)
“The mind creates the body.”
“If the first woman God ever created turned the world upside down all by herself, these women together should be able to turn it back around, and put it right side up again. The men had better let them.”
“Truth burns away error.”
“Your Christ was born of God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”
“A religion without humanity is poor stuff.”
Two Versions, One Speech
“Ain’t I A Woman,” Truth’s most famous speech, has been passed down through history differently than it was originally delivered. In 1863, Frances Dana Barker Gage republished her remarks during the American Civil War. Although Truth was raised in New York and spoke Dutch as her first language, the version was “translated” into a stereotypical dialect of enslaved people from the South. Additionally, Gage embellished Truth’s original remarks, exaggerating claims (for example, saying Truth had thirteen children when she really had five).
As a framing device, Gage depicts Truth’s speech almost miraculously winning over a hostile crowd. Furthermore, Gage’s version of Truth contrasts with the “regular” English spoken by bystanders:
It is said that women need assistance getting into carriages, lifting out of ditches, and having the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or across mud-puddles, or gives me a good place! In a voice that sounded like thunder, she said, “And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm!” (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her muscular power). No man could head me when I ploughed, planted, and collected into barns! Isn’t it true that I am a woman? When I could get it, I could work as hard and eat as much as a man, and bear de lash a well! Isn’t it true that I am a woman? In my mother’s grief, I cried out to Jesus when I bore thirteen children, and I saw most of them sold off to slavery. I’m a woman, aren’t I?
Truth speaks standard American English without accents or dialects in the original transcription, written by Marius Robinson (who attended the convention where Truth spoke). It reads as follows:
I would like to say a few words about this issue. It is my right to be a woman. My muscles are as strong as any man’s, and I am as capable as any man. Can any man do more than that? I have plowed, reaped, husked, chopped, and mowed. There has been much talk about equality between the sexes. If I can get it, I can carry as much as any man. I am as strong as any man in the present day. When it comes to intellect, all I can say is, if a woman has a pint, and a man a quart, why can’t she have her little pint? You needn’t be afraid to give us our rights because we won’t take more than our pint can hold. They seem to be in a state of confusion and don’t know what to do. If you have woman’s rights, give them to her and you will feel better. As long as you have your own rights, you won’t have to worry about them so much. Despite not being able to read, I am able to hear. According to the Bible, Eve caused man to sin. Do give a woman a chance to right the world if she upsets it.