In her 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman," Sojourner Truth, a Black woman and former slave, countered arguments that women were too fragile and weak to be allowed the same rights as men. Many men argued that women shouldn't have the vote or the same rights as men because they lacked the intellect to make reasoned decisions and needed to be sheltered and protected from the roughness of the world.
Using her time as a slave as an example of what women are capable of doing, Truth notes that she was never sheltered or protected in any way. Instead, she did the hard labor of a man and was beaten, too, like a man. As she says in the most famous passage of the speech:
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?
The fact that Black female slaves were worked very hard and treated harshly showed that a woman could do everything a man could do.
In the latter part of her speech, Truth counters the argument that women don't deserve rights because Jesus was a male. She points out that Jesus was born of a woman. She also points to Eve, who upended the world by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. If a woman once could turn the world upside down, women today can right it again, she says, stating:
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.
Sojourner Truth spoke forcefully to women's power. Her own story of struggle and survival was difficult to dispute.