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17 pages 34 minutes read

Sojourner Truth

Ain't I A Woman

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1851

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Background

The Gage Version and the Robinson Version

As mentioned above, Frances Gage transcribed and published the version of Truth’s speech that is most widespread today. However, experts have recently questioned the authenticity of that edition. For example, historian Nell Irvin Parker suggests that Truth never actually spoke the now-famous line, “And ain’t I a woman?” (Paragraph 2). Painter writes: “Gage made [Truth] into a tough-minded, feminist emblem by stressing Truth’s strength and the clash of conventions of race and gender and by inventing the riveting refrain” (Painter, Nell Irvin. “Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth’s Knowing and Becoming Known.” The Journal of American History, vol. 81, no. 2, Sept. 1994, pp. 461-92).

Painter also believes that Gage took liberties with Truth’s original words, making Truth sound Southern though she was born in a Dutch-speaking area of New York State and spoke Dutch until the age of nine. There is also a discrepancy between the number of children Gage claims Truth said she had and what historians know. Painter points out that Gage’s version says Truth lost all 13 children to enslavement when, in reality, “Truth had five children and said so in her Narrative” (Painter). Some historians believe Gage exaggerated these elements of Truth’s story to create a more dramatic effect and encourage readers to feel sympathy for the causes of abolition and women’s suffrage.

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