186 Introduction to the Text

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Sojourner Truth

“Ain’t I a Woman?”

Sojourner Truth’s speech entitled “Ain’t I a Woman?” is one of the most popular speeches by the famous abolitionist and woman’s rights activist, widely acclaimed for its voice of confidence and unyielding belief in all-inclusive woman’s rights.  The speech tackles the issue of woman’s rights by describing woman’s rights, not as something women do not have and are trying to gain, but something deserved all along that they have yet to receive. Truth presents herself on equal ground to the soil men stand on, weakening this sense of masculinity men often used to defend the conservative stance on the woman rights movements going on at the time. Truth uses the analogy of “pint and quart” to tackle the ideas of equality and equity and how they correlate to the movement and goals of woman’s rights activism. Sojourner Truth and her speeches often portray much more intersectionality of race and gender compared to other works of abolitionists and feminists, like Fredrick Douglass and Anne Bradstreet. Intersectionality of both race and gender and the overlapping of these two constructs with discrimination were often neglected in the United States at this time, so Truth’s focus on both issues deepens the significance of her speeches. Being voiced during the climax of slavery, Truth warns white men of the United States of how cornered they are by not only the oppressed women of the states but the freed slaves of the movement.

 

What little people know of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech given in 1851 is that it actually had 2 very different transcriptions, which the more popularized one being, well, formally incorrect. Sojourner Truth was a Northerner, with a northern accent, yet the most popularized transcription was by Frances Dana Barker Gage, a white abolitionist at the time. Gage controversially transcribed Truth by using the voice of a southern black slave, even though she wasn’t. This was seen in a negative tone due to how it reinforced this single story narrative of slave culture. Unlike Gage, the original transcription was much more true to the original speech, transcribed by Truth’s close friend, Rev. Marius Robinson. Robinson released this speech in a popular anti-slavery newspaper, The Salem Anti‐Slavery Bugle, marking its first publishing to the masses.

 

This speech truly is a work of art from Truth and will be laid down as one of the most famous speeches in US History. Due to the technology to record sound not being invented at the time of this speech, we won’t truly know exactly what was exactly said on the day of Truth’s speech, nor her emotions while speaking of such a passionate subject for her. Nonetheless, the effect of Sojourner’s words and the change social change she sparked speaks for itself.

 

Sources:

 

“Sojourner Truth.” National Women’s History Museum, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sojourner-truth.

 

“Sojourner Truth’s Original ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ Speech.” The Sojourner Truth Project, www.thesojournertruthproject.com/.

 

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Introduction to the Text by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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