Women's History Month: Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" (1863)

Sojourner Truth's speech at the 1851 Women's Rights Convention in Ohio asked a question that could not be denied in order to draw attention to the humanity, abilities, thus rights, of both women and slaves. The overall tone was passionate and provocative. In a version published in an 1863 issue of the Anti-Slavery Standard, the presiding officer of the convention Frances Dana Gage quoted the speech within her descriptions of the setting, audience, and speaker. Read the full text here.
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  1. gaunt
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    The leaders of the movement trembled upon seeing a tall, gaunt black woman in a gray dress and white turban, surmounted with an uncouth sunbonnet, march deliberately into the church, walk with the air of a queen up the aisle, and take her seat upon the pulpit steps.
  2. disapprobation
    an expression of strong disapproval
    A buzz of disapprobation was heard all over the house, and there fell on the listening ear, "An abolition affair!" "Woman's rights and niggers!" "I told you so!" "Go it, darkey!"
  3. timorous
    shy and fearful by nature
    Again and again, timorous and trembling ones came to me and said, with earnestness, "Don't let her speak, Mrs. Gage, it will ruin us. Every newspaper in the land will have our cause mixed up with abolition and niggers and we shall be utterly denounced."
  4. discomfiture
    anxious embarrassment
    There were very few women in those days who dared to "speak in meeting" and the august teachers of the people were seemingly getting the best of us, while the boys in the galleries, and the sneerers among the pews, were hugely enjoying the discomfiture, as they supposed of the "strong-minded"
  5. solemnly
    in a serious and dignified manner
    She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me.
  6. tumult
    a state of commotion and noise and confusion
    The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream.
  7. profound
    far-reaching and thoroughgoing in effect
    At her first word there was a profound hush.
  8. throng
    a large gathering of people
    She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows.
  9. kilter
    in working order
    Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de nigger of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.
  10. keen
    intense or sharp
    What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument.
  11. rebuke
    an act or expression of criticism and censure
    Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to the little man.
  12. elicit
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve, I cannot follow her through it all. It was pointed and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause
  13. assert
    declare or affirm solemnly and formally as true
    ...and she ended by asserting, "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder [and she glanced her eye over the platform] ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!
  14. oblige
    cause to be indebted
    "Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."
  15. gratitude
    a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation
    Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude.
  16. slough
    a stagnant swamp
    She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty, turning the whole tide in our favor.
  17. subdue
    put down by force or authority
    I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day.
  18. sneer
    a contemptuous or scornful remark
    ...and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration.
  19. glorious
    characterized by grandeur
    Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother
  20. testify
    provide evidence for
    ...and bid her God-speed on her mission of "testifyin' agin concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people."
Created on March 13, 2014 (updated July 6, 2022)

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