Sojourner Truth, woman’s rights speech (1851)

I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?


Sojourner Truth
Truth in 1864 (House Divided Project)

Born enslaved in New York in 1799 as Isabella, Sojourner Truth changed her name in 1843.  Truth grew up speaking a Dutch dialect and probably spoke English with a noticeable Dutch accent.  She was enslaved in New York during a period of gradual abolition (which ended in 1827).  As a free woman, Truth joined a series of utopian religious communities in New York and Massachusetts.  Her stirring 1851 speech to the Woman’s Rights convention in Akron, Ohio drew immediate attention, but became even more mythical (and somewhat distorted) by later slight mistranslations of her words and dialect.  It was from these later accounts that scholars originally derived the popular title, “Ain’t I A Woman?” for these remarks. The version of the speech below was the original transcription recorded by newspapers in 1851. Truth was about six feet tall and imposing presence as a speaker and activist, fighting for both the abolition of slavery and women’s rights.

SOURCE FORMAT:  News report of public speech

WORD COUNT:  344 words

May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter.

I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?

I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now.

As for intellect, all I can say is, if women have a pint and man a quart – why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we cant take more than our pint’ll hold.

The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and dont know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they wont be so much trouble.

Truth’s fundraising carte-de-visite (Library of Congress)

I cant read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.

The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept – and Lazarus came forth.

And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them.

But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between-a hawk and a buzzard.

CITATION: Sojourner Truth speech, Woman’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio, May 29, 1851, published first in Salem Anti-Slavery Bugle (June 21, 1851) reprinted in Sojourner Truth Project


  • Does it really matter which version of the 1851 Sojourner Truth speech that teachers use in the classroom?


  • Compare and contrast this 1851 speech with the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments from Seneca Falls.  The language is certainly different but how are the principles similar?


  • Truth was an imposing figure, not just because of her height but also because of her moral courage.  She even heckled Frederick Douglass occasionally in the 1850s when he seemed to be promoting violence as a way to resist slavery.  “Is God Dead?” she would yell out from the audience.  What did Truth mean by such a challenge and how do you see her religious belief influencing this woman’s rights speech?


  • Sojourner Truth used to sell the carte-de-visite (CDV) pictured above at antislavery and woman’s rights conventions in the 1850s and 1860s.  What did she mean by the caption, “I sell the shadow to support the substance”?


With her words unencumbered by her ambiguous personal presence, Truth has by now been distilled into an essence of her nineteenth-century strength: an ability to delve to the heart of a controversial matter with a few, well-chosen words. – Nell Irvin Painter 

Actress Kerry Washington performs “Ain’t I A Woman?” version