I recently read a short book by the classicist Mary Beard called Women and Power, in which she writes about the long history of silencing women. She gives examples from antiquity. In “The Odyssey,” the faithful wife Penelope of the long-absent Odysseus comes down from her private quarters to tell the assembled suitors to sing a more cheerful song. Her son Telemachus steps forward to rebuke her for speaking in public and sends her back to her loom.

Fast forward to the nineteenth century, when it becomes accceptable for women to speak, but appropriate only when they speak about women’s issues.

One of the most popular entries in anthologies of female oratory, she says, is Sojourner Truth’s “And Ain’t I a Woman.” It is written as a transcription of a southern drawl. But, writes Beard, the speech was written up a decade after she said whatever she said. Beard says the language was written by Abolitionists to fit their message. Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, New York, and her first language was Dutch.

Sojourner Truth was a historical figure, a real human being, a woman of color who spoke in public and earned her place in history. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have an accurate transcription of the powerful speech that broke the taboos of her age. She must have been a powerful and compelling speaker. She spoke out at a time when women were not supposed to speak in public, and black women were not supposed to speak at all.