Sojourner Truth – Well Ain’t She a Woman

Sojourner Truth's Spot at Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party", used with permission
Sojourner Truth's Spot at Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party", used with permission

Isabella Baumfree – later changed to Sojourner Truth –was born a slave in Ulster County in 1797.  She stood 6 feet tall and was the youngest of twelve children.  In 1826 Truth ran away from her master and from them on her shelter was dependent on the kindness of people.

Although Sojourner Truth was illiterate, she was an author and was known for her moving speeches.  In her speech: “Ain’t I a Woman,” Truth says, “What’s [intellect] 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?”  Truth means the fight for women’s rights and African-American rights is common sense, having nothing to do with the amount of education one has.  Women and Minorities have a disadvantage to begin with, but even still lack basic rights that the white man has.

After running away from her master Truth was constantly fighting for the rights of black people and women.  In 1844, Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts where she met and worked with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas.  In another instance she had shown her breasts before a crude audience when they challenged her womanhood.  During the Civil War she traveled to Washington D.C. where she met with Abraham Lincoln at the White House to discuss relief work for newly freed slaves.  At one point she suggested establishing a “negro state” in the west.  In March 1865, while practicing her newly instated right to ride the horse cars, Truth was slammed into the door by the conductor in a attempt to put her off, she had him arrested, brought him to trial, and won her case.

Statue of Sojourner Truth at Battle Creek, used with permission
Statue of Sojourner Truth at Battle Creek, used with permission

During her life Truth was an active protester for the rights of both black people and women.  From “Ain’t I a Woman,” Truth says, “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?”  Truth feels that she is a woman, but not being treated as such.

“The man” that she is speaking of says that women need to be treated in such a way, but then Truth isn’t treated that way, so it is contradicting his statement.  It is like saying “American citizens are wealthy and white and ruthless.  I am poor black and considerate and Ain’t I an American?”  There are descriptions of women that are confining and often don’t encompass all of what a woman is.  When statements are said by “the man” they are stereotypes.  In her speech Truth also says, “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?”  There is also a video of Kerry Washington performing the poem here.

In 1883 Truth died of old age, she was buried in Battle Creek, the biggest funeral the town had ever seen.  Despite her setbacks of being black, a slave, and a womean, she managed to make a huge impact in both the abolitionist movement and the feminist movement.  She intersected her issues instead of simply choosing one cause to fight for.

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