International Women's Day: 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.
Sojourner Truth, 'Ain't I a Woman', Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio, 1851
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Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005
And, not to point out the obvious again, but an interesting coda to all of this was the use of Truth's speech by white feminists not only as an internal critique but as a means of acquiring "authenticity."
David Lion Salmanson - 3/11/2005
Except no accounts exist of the speech until years after the fact. She did speak at the convention, we do not have a record of what she said.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/9/2005
The power of this speech hinged on its reflecing accurately the strength and idealism "Truth" showed in living her life.
Her journey's South would have required her to acquire a southern accent. With that in mind, she probably had a number of "modes of discourse," in particular, dialects, that she used according to circumstance. At an abolitionist rally, the southern black voice may have seemed logical to her, and accounts of her statements that put her comments in dialect may have been accurate.
Ralph E. Luker - 3/8/2005
David and Michael's points are on target. In addition to Nell Painter's biography of Sojourner Truth, I recommend Sean Wilentz and Paul Johnson's brilliant book, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th Century America (1994).
Michael C Tinkler - 3/8/2005
I heard a faculty-current-research-lunch-talk last month that made Sojourner Truth out to be a much more interesting woman than I had supposed. Two little factoids -- first, sectionally interesting: she was a New York slave. We all too easily forget them. The second, which goes to undercut the reported dialect in the speech, she was almost certainly a native speaker of Dutch. My colleague presented the speech (I have no idea how original this was) as a classic example of the construction of the discourse of the black woman.
Sharon Howard - 3/8/2005
I had no idea. I last read this as an undergraduate, and found it again today and blogged it pretty much on impulse. Since the implicit theme of the day over at Early Modern Notes has been women's own agency and I'm in a stroppy feminist mood, I'm mostly thinking, good for her. If I get a chance, I'll look up the biography though.
David Lion Salmanson - 3/8/2005
Sharon, did you know Sojourner Truth probably did not give this speech as it appears. The first recorded instance of her comments is years after the fact. See, for example, Nell Irvin Painter's biography for this speech as a bit of self-fashioning. Some parallels to the Chief Seattle "speech" which was not recorded either, although Truth's role in her own myth-making is far more active.
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