Study Guide

Frances Dana Gage in Ain't I a Woman?

By Sojourner Truth, a.k.a. Isabella Baumfree

Frances Dana Gage

On May 2nd, 1863, Frances Dana Gage published "Ain't I a Woman?" in the Anti-Slavery Standard.

Wait.

What?

Wasn't "Ain't I a Woman?" given by Sojourner Truth in 1851? Did you just shift over to another speech by the same name? The answer: kind of.

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Gage, a noted abolitionist and activist who had been president of the Ohio Women's Rights Council in 1851, published an annotated version of the speech, detailing events supposedly as they happened the day of Truth's speech. In one sense, it's awesome that we have an eye-witness account and color commentary on the audience's response to Truth. On the other hand, Gage is (nearly, but we're getting to that) entirely the reason we have Sojourner Truth recorded as speaking with a heavy Southern dialect.

Hopefully, you've just read why that might have been a bit of an error in the Key Player Analysis of Sojourner Truth. Go ahead, check that out. We'll wait here.

Time is Not on Her Side

Now that you've figured out a native Dutch speaker born and raised in New York was extremely unlikely to sound like an escapee from Uncle Tom's Cabin, take a look at the dates.

  • The Ohio Women's Rights Convention that actually saw Truth's speech was in 1851.
  • Gage's published account was in 1863.

That's twelve years after the fact. We don't know about you, but trying to remember word for word what was said in a classroom twelve years ago is a bit beyond our mental capacities. (Maybe Sherlock Holmes could do it.)

In this case, Gage really, really wasn't. The actual article, found here, reads more like a novelization of a movie, which we all know are never quite right. It contrasts heavily with the report from the secretary of the convention, Marius Robinson, although the gist of the speech remains the same.

The Ends Justify the Means?

Gage can't really be blamed, though, as she was a passionate abolitionist and activist from her childhood onward. She worked tirelessly and fearlessly in the face of threats and often working unpaid to promote the causes she held dear.

Her account of "Ain't I a Woman?" drew attention to Sojourner Truth's message, which is really the point. Despite the problem of inaccuracy, Gage's literary and oratory skills were highly valued by her friends, which included Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

We think Sojourner would want us to forgive her.

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