When Woman Gets Her Rights Man will be Right (c. 1860, by Sojourner Truth)

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Sojourner Truth, born and raised a slave, was perhaps the most outspoken and impressive voice in the women's rights movement. Born in 1797 to slaves on a Dutch plantation, and badly treated throughout her youth, Truth (née Isabella Baumfree) was sold four times before fleeing slavery in 1826. She became actively involved in the social reform movement when she moved to New York around 1829. After living in a variety of progressive utopian communities, including the Northampton Industrial Association, where she met and was influenced by Frederick Douglass, Truth began singing, preaching, praying, and evangelizing wherever she could find an audience. At a time when even white women were rarely allowed to speak publicly, Truth stands out as an accomplished orator and leader in both the abolition and women's rights movements. This selection echoes the message of Truth's famous "Ain't I a woman?" speech given at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. In the speech, Truth used her slave background to reject the prevailing notion that women were less capable than men, saying, "I have ploughed, planted, and gathered into barns and ain't I a woman?" She expanded upon this declaration of equality here in a discussion of unfair labor practice. It can be noted that her argument that able women deserve to be paid the same as able men has not, even a hundred years later, been fully addressed.

Leah R.Shafer,
Cornell University

See also Women's Rights Movement: The Nineteenth Century .

My Friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don't know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field—the country of the slave. They have got their rights—so much good luck. Now what is to be done about it? I feel that I have got as much responsibility as anybody else. I have as good rights as anybody. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women get theirs, there will be a bad time about it. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again. White women are a great deal smarter and know more than colored women, while colored women do not know scarcely anything. They go out washing, which is about as high as a colored woman gets, and their men go about idle, strutting up and down; and when the women come home, they ask for their money and take it all, and then scold because there is no food. I want you to consider on that, chil'n. I want women to have their rights. In the courts women have no right, no voice; nobody speaks for them. I wish woman to have her voice there among the pettifoggers. If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there. I am above eighty years old; it is about time for me to be going. But I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help break the chain. I have done a great deal of work—as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler; but men never doing no more, got twice as much pay. So with the German women. They work in the field and do as much work, but do not get the pay. We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much. I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the colored woman, I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is broken. What we want is a little money. You men know that you get as much again as women when you write, or for what you do. When we get our rights, we shall not have to come to you for money, for then we shall have money enough of our own. It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this we shall not be coming to you any more. You have been having our right so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all better when it closes up again. I have been in Washington about three years, seeing about those colored people. Now colored men have a right to vote; and what I want is to have colored women have the right to vote. There ought to be equal rights more than ever, since colored people have got their freedom.

I know that it is hard for men to give up entirely. They must run in the old track. I was amused how men speak up for one another. They cannot bear that a woman should say anything about the man, but they will stand here and take up the time in man's cause. But we are going, tremble or no tremble. Men are trying to help us. I know that all—the spirit they have got; and they cannot help us much until some of the spirit is taken out of them that belongs among the women. Men have got their rights, and women has not got their rights. That is the trouble. When woman gets her rights man will be right. How beautiful that will be. Then It will be peace on earth and good will to men. But it cannot be until it be right … It will come … Yes, it will come quickly. It must come. And now when the waters is troubled, and now is the time to step into the pool. There is a great deal now with the minds, and now is the time to start forth … The great fight was to keep the rights of the poor colored people. That made a great battle. And now I hope that this will be the last battle that will be in the world. Let us finish up so that there be no more fighting. I have faith in God and there is truth in humanity. Be strong women! Blush not! Tremble not! I want you to keep a good faith and good courage. And I am going round after I get my business settled and get more equality. People in the North, I am going round to lecture on human rights. I will shake every place I go to.

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When Woman Gets Her Rights Man will be Right (c. 1860, by Sojourner Truth)

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