I have a Dover Thrift collection of great speeches by American women, so I read part of that this week. There are not a lot of feminist speeches before the Civil War, but one of them is a favorite of mine: Sojourner Truth's Ain't I a Woman? Sojourner Truth lived from 1797-1883. Born a slave, she gained her freedom in 1827 and spent most of her adult life working for abolition and women's rights. This famous speech was given in 1851 as a response to a clergyman who argued that "women were too weak and helpless to be given the right to vote." It's not long, so I'm going to quote the whole speech below.
The next speech is from 1854, by Lucretia Coffin Mott, a Quaker abolitionist and suffragette. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she organized the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention and published a famous treatise, "Discourse on Women." I guess I should read that too. The speech I read is called "Why Should Not Woman Seek to be a Reformer?" It lauds women's accomplishments and rails against the laws that made a married woman "a cypher"--according to the law, a married couple was one person, and that person was the husband. A wife had no rights or property of her own.
It's on to the Civil War in February! The Civil War is one of those things that I know shamefully little about.
AIN'T I A WOMAN?
by Sojourner Truth
Delivered 1851 at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.