Today in History, February 4: 1986 – The US Postal Service issues a stamp commemorating the life of Sojourner Truth as part of the Black Heritage series.
Sojourner Truth was born a slave in upstate New York about 1797 (nobody recorded the date.) Her mother and father were from different farms (owners) and their relationship was forbidden…Sojourner’s mother never saw her father after they were separated. Sojourner was actually born Isabella Baumfree, but changed her name in 1843. In 1826, she escaped slavery; a year before it was abolished in New York state.
She was raised speaking Dutch, the language of her mother and their first owner, but she learned English later in life. Sojourner dedicated her life to the abolitionist and women’s rights causes, among others. She spoke publicly and often, sharing her experiences along with friends Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison and later Susan B. Anthony.
In May of 1851, Sojourner Truth spoke at the Second Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. There are two versions, one recorded (written down) in 1851 and one during the Civil War. I have included the first…several sites point out this one is more likely accurate. The second uses much Southern slang which Sojourner Truth likely did not use due to her background.
“May I say a few words? Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded; I want to say a few words about this matter. I am for 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 woman have a pint and a 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 won’t take more than our pint will hold.
The poor men seem to be all in confusion and don’t 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 there won’t be so much trouble.”
This speech, which due to the later and more famous printing would be called “Ain’t I a Woman?” would help advance Sojourner’s fame and her cause. During the Civil War, she helped recruit black men for service in the Union Army, and conferred with President Lincoln. She would continue to fight for her causes into the 1870’s, and would die in 1883 in Battle Creek, Michigan.