Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree, c. 1797 to November 26, 1883) was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist best-known for her speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?”, delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Truth was born into slavery but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. She devoted her life to the abolitionist cause and helped to recruit black troops for the Union Army. Although Truth began her career as an abolitionist, the reform causes she sponsored were broad and varied, including prison reform, property rights and universal suffrage.
In May of 1851, Truth delivered an improvised speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron that would come to be known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” The first version of the speech was published a month later by Marius Robinson, editor of Ohio newspaper The Anti-Slavery Bugle, who had attended the convention and recorded Truth’s words himself. It did not include the question “Ain’t I a woman?” even once. The famous phrase would appear in print 12 years later, as the refrain of a Southern-tinged version of the speech. It is unlikely that Sojourner Truth, a native of New York whose first language was Dutch, would have spoken in this Southern idiom.
Even in abolitionist circles, some of Truth’s opinions were considered radical. She sought political equality for all women and chastised the abolitionist community for failing to seek civil rights for black women as well as men. She openly expressed concern that the movement would fizzle after achieving victories for black men, leaving both white and black women without suffrage and other key political rights.