Today in History: May 29

No one recorded exactly what Sojourner Truth said to the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, on this date in 1851. The speech was memorable, even if it was mis-remembered. It is known as the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, though a newspaper report from a month after, written by a journalist who was present, does not include that phrase.

Years later, a version appeared that captured Truth’s words but in a “plain-spoken” Southern dialect, which, many historians point out would not have been Truth’s accent: she was from upstate New York and Dutch was her first language.

A frequently seen version reads:

That man over there says 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 arn’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 arn’t I 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 arn’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And arn’t I a woman?

Marius Robinson, an editor of the Anti-Slavery Bugle, who was present at the convention and during Truth’s impromptu talk, published the speech in his newspaper one month later:

I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. [sic] 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’ll hold. The poor men seems 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 the woman who bore him. Man, where was 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, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

Truth was born in the 1790s near the town where I lived for many years, New Paltz, NY, and lived in Ulster County for years. The library at SUNY New Paltz (a college where I studied and taught) is named for her and possesses several boxes of original archival materials related to her.

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Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring had its premiere in Paris on this date in 1913. It is famous not only because it is a haunting piece of music but also for the audience reaction the night of the debut so many years ago: It was so new-sounding, so foreign, that the audience rioted, threw food at the orchestra, booed so loudly that the dancers could not hear Vaslav Nijinsky’s ongoing dance instructions. (In 2016, the only thing that seems to elicit similar passion in people is young men wearing their belts too low.)

Leonard Bernstein conducts the London Symphony Orchestra:

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Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit of Mount Everest on this date in 1953. It was Norgay’s 39th birthday.

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Beatrice Lillie was born on this date in 1894. Bob Hope was born on this date in 1903. President John F. Kennedy was born on this date in 1917.

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Nick Mancuso is 68 today. Danny Elfman is 63. La Toya Jackson is 60. Annette Bening is 58. Rupert Everett is 57. Melissa Etheridge is 55. Noel Gallagher is 49. Carmelo Anthony is 32. Laverne Cox is 32 today.

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