Compare and contrast Sojourner Truth’s “Woman’s Rights” to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s “Woman’s Political Future.” Focus on the tone of each speaker in each piece, the underlying...

Compare and contrast Sojourner Truth’s “Woman’s Rights” to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s “Woman’s Political Future.” Focus on the tone of each speaker in each piece, the underlying themes, and their views on women, men, the family, and the future.

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One problem we encounter in comparing these two speeches is that the record of Sojourner Truth's speech is disputed. There are two speeches on the record. One was written and recalled by Marcus Robinson, an anti-slavery journalist, editor, and personal friend of Sojourner Truth. It was recalled and written down in the June 1851 edition of Anti-Slavery Bulge. A second version was recalled by abolitionist and suffragette Frances Dana Barker Gage in 1863, over a decade after the speech was originally given. For the purposes of this analysis, I will be referring to the speech as written and recalled by Marcus Robinson.

Both Truth and Harper were influenced by the temperance movement. The temperance movement was primarily about the prohibition of alcohol, but the movement also advocated for woman's suffrage, conservative family values, and moral uplift in an increasingly industrialized age. Both Truth and Harper emphasized that having women more active in political life would have a wholesome and moralizing effect on social progress. In this way, both women accepted the idea that women were responsible for the morality of family and of society.

For Truth, women's responsibility for the moral state of family and society seemed to be rooted in religious beliefs: “I can't read,” she stated, “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.” Harper likewise emphasized the role of women in maintaining values: “So close is the bond between man and woman,” she said, “that you can not raise one without lifting the other. The world can not move without woman's sharing in the movement, and to help give a right impetus to that movement is woman's highest privilege.” Harper went on to claim that women's social and political advancement would not “make the home less happy but society more holy.”

In terms of tone, Sojourner Truth's comments were extemporaneous, whereas Harper's were prepared. Truth spoke in a meandering fashion, while Harper was more intentional, arguing for universal suffrage as a means of social progress. Both struck a hopeful tone, noting that the advancement of women seemed almost inevitable. Harper noted that: “As the saffron tints and crimson flushes of morn herald the coming day, so the social and political advancement which woman has already gained bears the promise of the rising of the full-orbed sun of emancipation.” Truth likewise felt that the abolitionist and suffrage movements were forcing social change at a rapid pace. “[M]an is in a tight place,” she stated, “the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.” Based on their shared hopeful tone, it seems that both women believed that, despite challenges and resistance, radical social change was imminent.