From the Old Stone Church on High Street, looking out over a gorgeous vista of the Little Cuyahoga River in Akron, Sojourner Truth delivered her iconic “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Women’s Convention on May 29, 1851. Her words had a profound effect on the attendees that day, and have gone down in history as one of the most important feminist and abolitionist speeches. One question still lingers though: Did she ever really ask “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Truth, who was born a slave in 1797 but escaped to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826, is one of the most famous abolitionists and feminists in U.S. history. Her list of accomplishments extends far beyond the one speech. Still, it is the simple question that she supposedly asked that continues to dominate Truth’s legacy.
Historians disagree on exactly what Sojourner Truth actually said that day in 1851. The first transcript of the speech was published one month after it was delivered, and in that version, the words “Ain’t I a Woman?” appear nowhere, although the phrase “I am for women’s rights” does come up twice. Twelve years later, a second version came out. That version is similar in content, but the syntax is noticeably changed to appear more colloquial, and the phrase “Ain’t I a Woman?” was scattered liberally throughout the text. Despite the probability that it is in fact this second version of the speech that is more butchered than the first transcription, this is the version that is widely regarded as “the original” and is quoted in history books.
The famous phrase is written on the historical marker that today hangs at the site of Truth’s influential speech. The Old Stone Church on High Street no longer stands, and the Sojourner Truth Building that replaced it at the site is now vacant. But a plaque remains proudly on display on the building’s facade, free for any passerby to stop, view, and reflect. “Ain’t I a Woman” is permanent, and by now Truth’s legacy has cemented itself—even if we’ll never really know the full Truth.
Know Before You Go
High Street is a one-way, you can therefore only reach the building from Perkins St. Park on the street.