Modern History Sourcebook:
A'nt I a Woman?
[This is a much less cleaned up version, than that normally given.
It is worth reading outloud.]
Sojourner Truth (c.1792-1883) - was the adopted name of a woman
born in New York who escaped from slavery shortly before mandatory
emancipation became law in the state in 1828. Truth was nearly
six feet tall and physically powerful from her years of hard labor.
She gave this speech - which made her famous at the time it in
Akron, Ohio, at a women 's rights meeting in May, 1851. This version
includes an introduction a setting of the scene.
Sojourner Truth, Mrs. Stowe's "Lybian Sibyl," was present
at this Convention. Some of our younger readers may not know that
Sojoumer Truth was once a slave in the State of New York, and
carries today as many marks of the diabolism of slavery,
as ever scarred the back of a victim in Mississippi. Though she
can neither read nor write, she is a woman of rare intelligence
and commonsense on all subjects. She is still living, at
Battle Creek, Michigan, though now 110 years old. [note: In
fact at time of publication she was c. 84 years old] Although
the exalted character and personal appearance of this noble woman
have been often portrayed, and her brave deeds and words many
times rehearsed, yet we give the following graphic picture of
Sojourner's appearance in one of the most stormy sessions of the
Reminiscences by Frances D. Gage: Sojoumer Truth.
The leaders of the movement trembled on seeing a tall, gaunt black
woman in a gray dress and white turban, surmounted with an uncouth
sunbonnet, march deliberately into the church, walk with
the air of a queen up the aisle, and take her seat upon the pulpit
steps. A buzz of disapprobation was heard all over the house,
and there fell on the listening ear, "An abolition affair!"
"Woman's rights and niggers!" "I told you so!"
"Go it, darkey!"
I chanced on that occasion to wear my first laurels in public
life as president of the meeting. At my request order was restored,
and the business of the Convention went on. Morning, afternoon,
and evening exercises came and
went. Through all these sessions old Sojoumer, quiet and reticent
as the "Lybian Statue," sat crouched against the wall
on the comer of the pulpit stairs, her sunbonnet shading her eyes,
her elbows on her knees, her chin resting upon her broad, hard
palms. At intermission she was busy selling the "Life of
Sojourner Truth," a narrative of her own strange and adventurous
life. Again and again, timorous and trembling ones came to me
and said, with earnestness, "Don't let her speak, Mrs. Gage,
it will ruin us. Every newspaper in the land will have our cause
mixed up with abolition and niggers, and we shall be utterly denounced."
My only answer was, "We shall see when the time comes."
The second day the work waxed warm. Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal,
Presbyterian, and Universalist ministers came in to hear and discuss
the resolutions presented. One claimed superior rights and privileges
for man, on the ground of "superior intellect"; another,
because of the "manhood of Christ; if God had desired the
equality of woman, He would have given some token of His will
through the birth, life, and death of the Saviour." Another
gave us a theological view of the "sin of our first mother."
There were very few women in those days who dared to "speak
in meeting"; and the august teachers of the people were seemingly
getting the better of us, while the boys in the galleries, and
the sneerers among the pews, were hugely enjoying the discomfiture,
as they supposed, of the "strongminded." Some
of the tenderskinned friends were on the point of losing
dignity, and the atmosphere betokened a storm. When, slowly from
her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had
scarcely lifted her head. "Don't let her speak!" gasped
half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front,
laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking
eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above
and below. I rose and announced "Sojourner Truth," and
begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments.
The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost
Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and
eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream. At her first
word there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which,
though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through
the throng at the doors and windows.
"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar
must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers
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?
"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be
helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de
best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or
ober mudpuddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising
herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling
thunder, she asked, "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look
at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing
her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted,
and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I
a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man-when I
could get it-and bear de lash as well! And a'n't I a woman? I
have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to
slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but
Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?
"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what
dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some
one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's
rights or nigger's rights. If my cup won't hold but a pint, and
yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my
little halfmeasure full?"
And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance
at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long
"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women
can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman!
Whar did your Christ come from?"
Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those
deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms
and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated,
"Whar did your Christ come from? From God and
a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke
that was to that little man.
Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of
Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed,
and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening
applause; and she ended by asserting:
"If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough
to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and
she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn
it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking
to do it, de men better let 'em."
Long continued cheering greeted this.
" 'Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now
ole Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."
Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more
than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude.
She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over
the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor.
I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence
that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers
and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration.
Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the
glorious old mother, and bid her Godspeed on her mission
of "testifyin' agin concerning the wickedness of this 'ere
From Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J.
Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. I (1881; reprint,
New York: Arno Press, 1969), pp. 11417.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997