When we saw this photograph of American abolitionist, former slave and women’s rights activist, Soujourner Truth, we thought, No description is necessary. There is a person who is completely herself, embodying strength, forthrightness, clarity. We printed it out to tack on our wall as a reminder of what is possible.

Then we read the extemporaneous speech she gave in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron Ohio. A reporter wrote it down verbatim:

May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter.

I am a woman’s rights.

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 women 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 cant take more than our pint’ll hold.

The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and dont know what to do.

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 wont be so much trouble.

I cant 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 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, and he is surely between-a hawk and a buzzard.

That is fierce poetry from a woman who could neither read nor write. “But I can hear”, she said. She was undaunted by what she heard, responding with powerfully forthright activism, with her own clear voice and truth.

I am a woman’s rights.

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