The Truth about Sojourner Truth

Nonstandard English is hard to consign to the page anyway, but the problem intensifies when the speech was uttered before the days of tape recorders. The most commonly cited version of Sojourner Truth’s oft-quoted 1851 speech, "Ain't I A Woman" was recalled more than a decade later by Frances Dana Gage, a white activist and author who was presiding over the Ohio Women's Rights Convention. It was later printed in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. I, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J. Gage (Rochester, N. Y.: Susan B. Anthony, Charles Mann, 1881). The passage that I have cited in Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch uses our contemporary spelling of “ain’t,” among other words. The 1881 version itself, reproduced at, uses “a’nt’” rather than “ain’t,” as well as some of Gage’s other nonstandard spellings:
Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!” And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. “And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash as well! And a’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ‘em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman?
A version printed in the Anti-Slavery Bugle, June 21, 1851, and cited in Margaret Washington’s Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Vintage Books: New York, 1993) uses the title “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” but doesn’t even include those words in the text, which is transcribed completely in Standard English:
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 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 can’t take more than our little pint’ll hold. The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what do too. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble. I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and a woman who bore him. Man, where is your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.
All the versions make the same point, though: that Sojourner Truth relied on verbs to show that she was the equal of "any man."