Sojourner Truth – The Different Versions of “Ain’t I A Woman?”

Sojourner Truth born Isabella (“Bell”) Baumfree; (c. 1797 – Nov 26, 1883) was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born enslaved in Swartekill, Ulster County New York. She escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828, she became the first woman of color to win such a case against a so-called white man.

Sometime after gaining her freedom in 1827, she became a well-known anti-slavery speaker. She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, on May 29, 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. It was briefly reported in two contemporary newspapers, and a transcript of the speech was published in the Anti-Slavery Bugle on June 21, 1853.

The speech was not originally known by any title. It became known as Ain’t I A Woman?” because of its oft-repeated question in the speech. The later version was the one recorded in most history books.

The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title “Ain’t I A Woman?,” a variation of the original speech was re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect. Sojourner Truth was from New York State and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language.



“AIN’T I A WOMAN?”

By: Sojourner Truth

Delivered 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio

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.

“AIN’T I A WOMAN?”

By: Sojourner Truth


Different Versions

Different versions of Sojourner Truth’s words have been recorded.  The first one published by Marcus Robinson a month later by a newspaper owner who was in the audience. His recounting of the speech included no instance of the question “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Twelve years later in May 1863, another version was published, a very different, version. In it, Truth’s speech pattern had characteristics of Southern enslaved people, and the speech included sentences and phrases that the first version didn’t.

The second version of the speech became the historic standard, and is known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” because that question was repeated four times. Truth’s own speech pattern was not Southern in nature, as she was born and raised in New York State, and spoke only Dutch until she was nine years old.


The following is the original 1851 report of the speech now known as “Ain’t I A Woman” Reported By: Marcus Robinson

Marcus Robinson One of the most unique and interesting speeches of the convention was made by Sojourner Truth. It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or 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 gesture, 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 a woman have a pint, and a 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 seems 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 siI want to say a few words about this matter.

I am for 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 a woman have a pint, and a 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 seems 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. de 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 the woman who bore him. Man, where was 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, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

First report of Sojourner Truth’s speech at the 1851 Women’s Conference in Akron, Ohio
By: Marcus Robinson



Over the next 10 years, Truth spoke before dozens, perhaps hundreds, of audiences. Truth was met with hisses and voices trying to prevent her from speaking.

At the Mob Convention on Sept 7, 1853, young men greeted her with “a perfect storm,” hissing and groaning. In response, Truth said, “You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway. You can’t stop us, neither”. Sojourner, like other public speakers, often adapted her speeches to how the audience was responding to her.

On May 9–10, 1867: Her speech was addressed to the American Equal Rights Association, and divided into three sessions. Sojourner was received with loud cheers instead of hisses, now that she had a better-formed reputation established. The Call had advertised her name as one of the main convention speakers. For the first part of her speech, she spoke mainly about the rights of black women. Sojourner argued that because the push for equal rights had led to colored men winning new rights, now was the best time to give colored women the rights they deserve too. Throughout her speech she kept stressing that “we should keep things going while things are stirring” and fears that once the fight for colored rights settles down, it would take a long time to warm people back up to the idea of colored women’s having equal rights.

In the second sessions of Sojourner’s speech, she utilized a story from the Bible to help strengthen her argument for equal rights for women. She ended her argument by accusing men of being self-centered, saying, “man is so selfish that he has got women’s rights and his own too, and yet he won’t give women their rights. He keeps them all to himself.” For the final session of Sojourner’s speech, the center of her attention was mainly on women’s right to vote. Sojourner told her audience that she owned her own house, as did other women, and must therefore pay taxes. Nevertheless, they were still unable to vote because they were women. Women of color who were enslaved were made to do hard manual work, such as building roads. Sojourner argues that if these women were able to perform such tasks, then they should be allowed to vote because surely voting is easier than building roads.

Eighth Anniversary of Negro Freedom — New Year’s Day, 1871: On this occasion the Boston papers related that “…seldom is there an occasion of more attraction or greater general interest. Every available space of sitting and standing room was crowded”. She starts off her speech by giving a little background about her own life. Sojourner recounts how her mother told her to pray to God that she may have good masters and mistresses. She goes on to retell how her masters were not good to her, about how she was whipped for not understanding English, and how she would question God why he had not made her masters be good to her. Sojourner admits to the audience that she had once hated white people, but she says once she met her final master, Jesus, she was filled with love for everyone. Once slaves were emancipated, she tells the crowd she knew her prayers had been answered. That last part of Sojourner’s speech brings in her main focus. Some freed people were living on government aid at that time, paid for by taxpayers. Sojourner announces that this is not any better for those colored people than it is for the members of her audience. She then proposes that black people are given their own land. Because a portion of the South’s population contained rebels that were unhappy with the abolishment of slavery, that region of the United States was not well suited for colored people. She goes on to suggest that colored people be given land out west to build homes and prosper on.

Sojourner Truth passed away on Nov 26, 1883. Several days before she passed, a reporter came from the Grand Rapids Eagle to interview her.

“Her face was drawn and emaciated and she was apparently suffering great pain. Her eyes were very bright and mind alert although it was difficult for her to talk.”

At her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. More than 3,000 people crowded into the Battle Creek Tabernacle to pay their last respects to the black heroine.

Other than Sojourner Truth fighting for women of color gaining equal rights. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit so-called colored troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former enslaved people. She spent her life fighting for equality and freedom.

Sojourner Truth We Speak Your Name

1864

1864 circa

Sources:
http://www.sojournertruth.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth



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