Tightrope: Honor Women's History Month with words of Truth

March is Women's History Month, and it's a good time to look to the past to gather strength, courage and wisdom to forge into the future.

In honor of women everywhere let's look to one of my favorite women.

In 1851, the third annual Women's Rights Convention assembled in Akron, Ohio. The male guest speakers took the opportunity to voice their opinions. One man said women were weak. Another said "helpless" would be a better description. Another man said women were short on intellect, so a man had to be superior.

It took an emancipated slave to finally shut those men up by sounding the historic rallying cry that sent the women's movement into high gear.

Having heard enough, Sojourner Truth slowly rose from her corner seat in the church and strolled her towering 6-foot frame up to the podium. In response to the men's comments she spontaneously and eloquently delivered what historians call the "Ain't I a Woman" speech.

In her brief talk, she managed to sum up the essence of who we are as women, where we are headed and why we must get there. Women shouted, cheered and shed tears of joy as Truth's words described what their hearts felt. Her address became the catalyst for women of all ages and races to maintain the kind of fearless persistence needed to push for women's rights.

Let's revisit excerpts from that historic speech. Imagine Sojourner Truth's deep resonating voice:

"That man says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me any best place. And ain't I a woman?"

We are creative: Millions of women have been extremely creative in developing businesses in order to provide support for themselves and their families. Many of these women have done so without the aid of bank loans or government intervention.

"Look at me! Look at my arms," she says as she shows her muscular arms. "I have plowed, I have planted and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain't I a woman?"

We are strong: Our tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual strength has made us more attuned to what we can contribute than what we will get.

"I work as much and eat as much as man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman?"

We are resourceful: In spite of the indignities of discrimination and limited resources, we have managed to push open doors to professional and technical jobs and found success as entrepreneurs.

To the man who spoke at the convention on the subject of women being short on intellect, Truth said:

"What's intellect got to do with a woman's rights or black folks' rights? If my cup won't hold a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?"

Historic woman such as Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida B. Wells are just a few who stayed the course for women's rights. We can honor these women and ourselves by continuing the work for the development of women of all backgrounds everywhere.

Yes, Sojourner, you are a woman, and we are women too and proud of it!

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at gladys@gladysedmunds.com.

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