Teaching Sojourner Truth's Most Famous Speech

November 26, 2022

Sojourner Truth was born enslaved in a Dutch community in New York state c.1797 as Isabella Baumfree. She escaped with her infant daughter in 1826. She sued her owner to get her son & was the 1st Black woman to win such a case, which was part of northern states abolishing slavery gradually, over time. She renamed herself Sojourner Truth in 1843.

In 1851 she attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Conference in Akron. Truth intervened in the speakers’ debate on women’s rights. Her original speech was lost, but a white woman named Francis Gage wrote down her recollection of it a few years later using stereotypical southern dialect even though Truth wasn’t southern. 

That version of the speech became famous and is called "Ain't I A Woman?" 
I point out to students that "ain't" is not something you'd expect someone from New York to say even in the mid-19th century. 
Then we watch the famous version of the speech with all of this in mind.
Then I open the Sojourner Truth Project website [link at bottom of page] and we compare the two versions of the speech. The highlights show the overlap between the far more accurate version of what Truth said and the altered Francis Gage version. The fake southern accent really stands out here. 
Side by side comparison of the Robinson & Gage versions of Truth's speech from Sojourner Truth Project
Then the Sojourner Truth Project lets us hear the more accurate version of the speech performed by women w/ an afro Dutch accent, as close as we can get to what Truth herself would have sounded like. Students hear the difference in the speeches & their context. 
I also turn on the closed captions and try to help when students get confused about the pronunciation of words like "pint" and "quart." 
And for the rest of the class, when we come upon 19th century sources of Black Americans filtered thru a white lens, we refer back to Truth's "Ain't I A Woman" example.


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