+
upworthy
Education

Sojourner Truth's real 'Ain't I a Woman?' speech was nothing like the famous one we all read

A prime example of how historical distortions can paint a totally inaccurate picture.

sojourner truth

The famous Sojourner Truth speech most of us learned is a fabrication.

For generations, students have read the extemporaneous speech Sojourner Truth gave at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, known widely as "Ain't I a Woman?" As a formerly enslaved Black woman speaking out against slavery and for women's rights, Truth made some powerful points in her speech—except the speech most of us read is almost nothing like the one she delivered.

The way "Ain't I a Woman?" is written makes it sound as if Truth walked straight off a Southern plantation. But Truth was a Northerner her entire life. The Southern dialect that permeates the popular version of her speech is a total fabrication.

It wasn't Truth who altered her speech, though. A white abolitionist woman named Frances Dana Gage published the speech 12 years after it was given, and her version is the one that became popularized, in all its glorious inaccuracy.


Let's start at the beginning.

Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree to parents who were enslaved by Dutch settlers in Ulster County, New York, in 1797. When she was 9, she was sold away to another New York enslaver, and by the time she was 14, she'd been sold to several different slave owners around New York State. After being raped by her final enslaver, harassed by his wife, and heartbroken over the man she loved being beaten to death by his owner on a neighboring farm, she escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826—the year before New York's gradual phasing out of slavery was set to be complete.

Truth chose her famous name in her forties, after a religious awakening in which she felt called to travel and speak out against slavery. She became a powerhouse in the early abolitionist movement. In addition to her fierce civil rights advocacy, she successfully sued one of her former owners for custody of her youngest son, who had been sold illegally, making her the first Black woman to take a white man to court and win.

During her adult life, Truth lived in New York and Massachusetts and eventually settled in Michigan. She traveled extensively, but since her entire childhood was spent in New York—and since her first language was Dutch—she wouldn't have had a Southern accent or spoken in a Southern dialect at all.

Since she couldn't read or write, the speech Truth gave in 1851 was never written down by her, so history relies on the people who were present to know what she said. The first attempt to publish a full account of her speech came a few weeks after she delivered it, when journalist Marius Robinson published his version in The Anti-Slavery Bugle on June 21, 1851. According to The Sojourner Truth Project, Robinson was good friends with Sojourner Truth, and there is documentation that she went over his transcription before it was published.

That version, titled "On Woman’s Rights,” begins:

"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?"

It's a strikingly different account than the one published in 1863 by Francis Gage, which reads in part:

"Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have de best place eberywhar.

Nobody eber helps me into carriages or ober mud-puddles, or gives me any best place.

And ar’n’t I a woman?"

Gage's version has been altered over time to smooth out the spellings, and "ar'n't" morphed into "ain't," but the distinct Southern accent remains in the speech we famously attribute to Truth today. (For instance, check out the speech shared by The Hermitage museum, which is the version most of us have read, here. The two originally published versions can be compared side by side here.)

According to The Sojourner Truth Project, "Frances Gage admitted that her amended version had 'given but a faint sketch' of Sojourner's original speech but she felt justified and believed her version stronger and more palatable to the American public than Sojourner's original version."

But changing her speech matters for a couple of reasons. For one, making Truth appear to be Southern adds to the oversimplification of slavery as only a Southern problem, when in reality slavery existed in the Northern states as well. They just abolished slavery earlier than the South, and without fighting a heinous, bloody war over it first.

Secondly, Truth herself did not care for people changing the way she talked, as The Sojourner Truth Project shares:

"In an 1851 issue of the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, an article states that Truth prided herself on 'fairly correct English, which is in all senses a foreign tongue to her…People who report her often exaggerate her expressions, putting in to her mouth the most marked southern dialect, which Sojourner feels is rather taking an unfair advantage of her.'"

It also matters because the truth matters. As the United States grapples with its history of racism and slavery and Americans argue over the lenses and narratives through which we tell our national story, it's vital that we strive to be truthful. Learning about history requires that we constantly stay open to not only learning things we may not have learned, but also relearning things we may have learned wrong.

Check out The Sojourner Truth Project for more details about Truth and to see a more accurate representation of what she actually said in her famous speech. And listen this reading of Robinson's version of her speech, read by a woman with a contemporary Dutch accent in an attempt to get closer to Truth's original speech:

There's one word you can't say on a cruise ship.

On December 10, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas set sail on the Ultimate World Cruise—a 274-day global trek that visits 11 world wonders and over 60 countries. This incredible trip covers the Americas, Asia Pacific, Middle East, Mediterranean and Europe with a ticket price that ranges from $53,999 to $117,599 per passenger.

Aboard the Serenade to the Seas is popular TikToker Marc Sebastian, who has been sharing his experience on the platform.

In a recent video with over 4.3 million views, he revealed what he’s learned over his first few weeks aboard the ship; the biggest was the one word you’re not allowed to say: Titanic.

Keep ReadingShow less
Angel City Chorale/ Youtube

Angel City Chorale performs "Africa" by Toto

There are nearly 90 known covers of Toto’s “Africa.” Goodness knows there are countless more not recorded. It’s just one of those enduring hits that remains special no matter what clever spin is put on it.

In fact, many renditions continue to be just as timeless as the original. Take for instance this gem from Angel City Chorale (below).

What makes this performance so unique is what happens before any music starts playing—as the singers use their hands to mimic the sounds of rainfall.

Keep ReadingShow less

Teacher Lisa Conselatore isn't holding back.

A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 87% of public schools say the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted students' socio-emotional development. Respondents have also said there has been a significant increase in student misconduct.

However, a teacher with 24 years of experience in the U.S. and abroad believes we are misplacing blame for this rise in misconduct. In a viral TikTok video with over 480,000 views, Lisa Conselatore claims that the big problem isn’t the pandemic but modern parenting.

Keep ReadingShow less
Parenting

Mom teaches son consent through non-verbal body language cues in brilliant video

She uses hugs to show enthusiastic consent and body language that says no.

Mom uses body language to teach son about consent

Fostering an environment where consent is expected and respected can be difficult if you don't quite know how to make it work. Consent has been a big conversation in society since the "Me Too" movement where people shared their stories of sexual assault or sexual violence. A theme began developing around consent and it became clear that not everyone understood what consent and non-consent looks like in a hormone-fueled moment.

This has led to parents trying to figure out the best ways to teach their children about verbal consent and enthusiastic consent. But there's one area that sometimes gets overlooked and one mom is taking to social media to show how she teachers her sons to recognize non-verbal body language that can mean consent and non-consent.

Kelsey Pomeroy, a mom of two boys, recently shared a video showing how she is teaching her children to not only listen for verbal consent but to look for signs of physical consent as well.

Keep ReadingShow less

Mr. T and reporter Bobbie Wygant.

When Mr. T burst onto the pop culture landscape in the early ‘80s, he was a curious character, to say the least. People had a lot of questions about his name, copious amounts of gold jewelry and West African warrior hairstyle.

His personality was also intriguing. He was a tough guy but also a very thoughtful man of faith.

In 1983, when TV news reporter Bobbie Wygant asked him a rather rude question, Mr. T gave a very thoughtful response that showed that behind his larger-than-life persona, he understood the importance of humility.

Keep ReadingShow less
Identity

99-year-old swimmer just shattered the centenarian world record in the 400m freestyle

Betty Brussel didn't even start swimming competitively until her late-60s.

Jim De Ramos/Canva

Did you know that swim categories go beyond age 100?

It's common knowledge that as we age, our bodies change, and at some point, we aren't able to do the things we used to do.

But somebody forgot to tell Betty Brussel that.

In January of 2024, the 99-year-old Dutch-Canadian swimmer shattered the world record for the 400-meter freestyle swim at a swim meet in Saanich, British Columbia, completing the event in 12 minutes and 50.3 seconds—nearly four minutes faster than the previous record in the 100 to 104-year-old age group. (Though Brussel is currently 99, swimming competitions go by year of birth to determine age categories.)

Keep ReadingShow less