Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883) was arguably the most famous of the 19th Century black women orators. Born into slavery in New York and freed in 1827 under the state’s gradual emancipation law, she dedicated her life to abolition and equal rights for women and men. Two versions of her most noted speech appear below. Scholars agree that the speech was given at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851. After that, there is much debate about what she said and how she said it. The version that is most quoted was published in the 1875 edition of Truth’s Narrative (which was written by others) and in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s History of Woman Suffrage which appeared in 1881. Both versions were published 25 years after Truth spoke. However the Salem, Ohio, Anti-Slavery Bugle published its version of the speech on June 21, 1851. Since that version appeared within a month of her presentation, many historians believe it to be the more accurate rendering of the talk. However both versions rely on the interpretations of others. Since no written transcript of the speech has appeared, what Truth actually said, as historian Nell Painter has pointed out, will probably never be known.
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 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 arn’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 arn’t I 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 arn’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried