Lesson Plan: Ain't I A Woman?

Sojourner Truth in cap and shawl with walking stick. Quote printed at bottom
Full length photomechanical print of Sojourner Truth. Quotation: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women all togedder ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up agin."

Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, Library of Congress

Grade Level

This activity is designed for 4th and 5th grade students (ages 9-11) and 6th-8th grade students (ages 11-14)

Learning Objectives

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2; 4.3; 4.5; 4.7; 4.8 5.1; 5.2; 5.3; 5.4; 5.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.1; 6-8.4; 6-8.6; 6-8.9

Guiding Questions

How do speakers engage audiences to strengthen their argument?
How can we compare different versions of historical text to get a clearer understanding of the past?

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was born enslaved with the name Isabella Baumfree in 1797. Her parents spoke Dutch, the language of the family's enslavers. When she was 9 years old, Isabella was sold away from her parents and brother to English-speakers. She had to work and learn a new language through her enslavement in several different households in New York. She was often beaten and treated cruelly. She won her freedom in 1826 when she was 29 years old. Then in 1843, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth, because she believed that the Holy Spirit was calling her to travel around (or sojourn) and tell the truth.

In May 1851, Sojourner Truth gave a speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention that became known as the "Ain't I A Woman" speech. Sojourner Truth was not able to read or write, and since sound recording and film had not yet been invented, we know about what she said that day because other people wrote down what they remembered.

Half-length portrait engraving of Frances Dana Gage in black dress with lace collar and right hand raised to her chin, hair pulled back with side curls
Frances Dana (Barker) Gage, half-length portrait engraving

Engraving by McRae?, NY. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

"Ain't I A Woman" as written by Frances Gage, 1863

Frances Gage was the person in charge of coordinating the Ohio Women's Rights Convention and she gave the first speech. During the two-day convention, women and men presented their ideas. They disagreed about whether they should work for the abolition of slavery as well as for women's rights. They shared different views about whether men and women are equal. One of the most memorable speeches was delivered by Sojourner Truth. Frances Gage wrote about the event for the New York Independent newspaper 12 years later in 1863. Here is the way Gage remembered Sojourner Truth's speech:

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?

Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

"Amid roars of applause," Frances Gage wrote, "she turned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes and hearts beating with gratitude." Gage noted that she had written "but a faint sketch of her speech," but remembered that Sojourner Truth's words had a powerful effect on the people attending the meeting.

Think About It! Questions for Discussion

  1. Why do you think Sojourner Truth says that "white men will be in a fix pretty soon"?
  2. Find something in the speech that addresses the issue of slavery. Why do you think Sojourner Truth talked about her experiences as a slave at a women's rights convention?
  3. Did Sojourner Truth believe that men and women are equal? Find a sentence that supports your answer.
  4. Explain the main idea of Sojourner Truth's speech in your own words.


Create a poster or a flyer advertising the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851. Include the issues that were being debated at the meeting. Here are some other details you might want to include:

  • The convention was held on May 28, 1851 and began at 10:00 am.
  • The location was the Stone Church in Akron, Ohio.
  • Frances Gage gave the first speech. In it, she explained the purpose of the assembly. This speech is called a "keynote address."
Clipped portion of Anti-Slavery Bugle issue with Sojourner Truth's speech printed
Anti-Slavery Bugle, June 21, 1851

Library of Congress

Anti-Slavery Bugle, 1851

Marius Robinson, editor of the Anti-Slavery Bugle and a friend of Sojourner Truth's, was at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention and was serving as the secretary, which means that he was writing down everything that happened. In the June 21, 1851 issue of the newspaper, he printed this version of Sojourner Truth's speech:

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 a woman have a pint and a 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 pint will hold. The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don't 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 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 woman who bore him. Man, where is your part? But the women are coming up blessed by 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.

Marius Robinson also noted that he found it "impossible to transfer it to paper, or convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience. Those only can appreciate it who saw her powerful form, her whole-souled, earnest gestures, and listened to her strong and truthful tones."

Another reporter who was there wrote in the Liberator: "Sojourner Truth spoke in her own peculiar style, showing that she was a match for most men." This reporter then noted another response from the crowd: "The power and wit of this remarkable woman convulsed the audience with laughter."

Think About It! Questions for Discussion

  1. Which parts of the two versions of the speech are the same? Can you find similar language? Is the main idea the same?
  2. What is different in the two versions of the speech? What is included in Frances Gage's version from 1863 that is not in Marius Robinson's 1851 article? What is in the 1851 text that is missing from the 1863 version?
  3. Which version do you think makes a better argument? Include quotes from the text to support your answer.
  4. All three reports about Sojourner Truth's speech say that it had a powerful effect on the audience who heard it. But one reporter also says that the speech was funny. What parts of the speech might have made the audience laugh?
  5. Which version do you think is closer to what Sojourner Truth actually said? Explain your answer.


Create a drawing, painting, cartoon, or other work of art illustrating something that Sojourner Truth talks about in either version of her speech. You can also imagine the Women's Rights Convention and how Sojourner Truth looked as she spoke to the gathering.

Extend the Lesson

Perform each version of the speech. What gestures do you think Sojourner Truth used? What might her tone of voice and expressions have been like? When does the audience laugh?


abolitionist: a person who believes that slavery should not be allowed and works to end it
convention: a large meeting or conference; a gathering of people for a specific purpose
dialect: a particular form of language that is specific to a region or social group
enslaved: to not be allowed any freedom; to work for no pay and obey demands
enslaver: a person who holds other people in bondage, forcing them to work without pay and denying them rights and freedom.
intellect: a person's ability to think and understand
right: a claim or privilege, especially one that is protected by law
reformer: an individual who is making changes in order to improve the quality of life
suffrage: the right to vote, especially for women
suffragist: a person who works for the right to vote, especially for women

Additional Resources

NPS Links
Sojourner Truth biography
A Great Inheritance: Abolitionist Practices in the Women's Rights Movement
Outside Links
"The electrifying speeches of Sojourner Truth" - Daina Ramey Berry, TedEd video
Women & the American Story: Sojourner Truth, Fierce Warrior for Social Justice Lesson plan and video from New-York Historical Society
Source for this article
Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, W. W. Norton & Company; Revised ed. edition (October 17, 1997)

African American Civil War Memorial, Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, Women's Rights National Historical Park

Last updated: December 3, 2021