The 19th Century Social Activism in the Name of Women Led by Sojourner Truth

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Late in May of 1851, Sojourner Truth, an acclaimed anti-slavery and women's rights activist, spoke at the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree, experienced the hardships of repression not only as a slave but perhaps combined with a second frontier as she was a female slave. Emancipated approximately 24 years before the speech from the New York abolition movement, Truth chose to fight for the rights of other slaves, female slaves in particular, nationwide.

Truth's "Aren't I a Woman" speech strongly advocates for the establishment of rights and social equality for women. The speech proved to be crucial to the ongoing women's rights movement in that it drew attention from a massive audience ranging from slaves to slave owners and everyone in between. In the text, she refers to the numerous physical correlations between herself and men. Truth remarks that she "has as much muscle as any man and can do as much work as any man." (Truth, 178). In doing so, she utilizes these similarities to question the lack of social equality between women and men. By questioning the lack of equality, she proclaims the necessity for the American government to grant social, economic, and political equality to women. Truth then explicitly asks, "And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and a woman who bore him." (Truth, 178). She argues that female equality should be a natural right by alluding to the Bible. In essence, she argues that women shouldn't have to be granted equality, as it should be granted at birth, and supports this idea by comparing the physical aspects between men and women.

Separately, in The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the narrator tells us that women's rights conventions were "frequently disturbed or broken up" and the lives of the members were "imperiled." Gates Jr., 178). This gives us insight into the fact that the majority of society at the time ridiculed the idea of equality for women, and even more so for African American women. Specifically, the narrator describes the hatred toward women activists as a bystander remarks, "An abolition affair!" "Woman's rights and niggers! "We warned you!" "Go for it, old darker!"Gates Jr., 179). This vicious comment further portrays the vast disapproval of female equality felt throughout society. In addition, Truth's bold decision to give the speech in such an environment proves her ability to withstand the attacks and thus displays the drive she harbored to obtain equality for all women.

Personally, Truth's comment that "woman is coming on him; he is surely between a hawk, and a buzzard" proves to be most compelling for me. It reveals her bold belief in the imminent arrival of women's rights and portrays her belief that men would be incapable of stopping such changes from occurring. Additionally, I also found her statement that she "can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too" powerful because she is able to prove equality between men and women in a simplistic manner using basic physical attributions. Furthermore, I believe that Truth's history as a former slave and her recurring references to the hardships of slavery allow for other individuals, specifically African American women, to connect with her struggles and thus resonate with her ideas. Overall, the movement I felt while reading Truth's simplistic yet powerful parallels between men and women was overwhelming. Undoubtedly, I would gladly read another text by Truth to further appreciate the way she is able to cater to a wide audience. In contemporary times, I believe that this text would be especially important to all women who experience any form of suppression of equality based on gender. This speech refutes the subjugation of women and boldly argues for equality on all fronts in a dangerous society that threatens the expression of these ideas.

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The 19th Century Social Activism in the Name of Women led by Sojourner Truth. (2023, Mar 07). Retrieved May 21, 2024 , from
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