Wednesday, March 16, 2016


"In the process of fighting against slavery, the Grimké sisters discovered the prejudices that women face, and their cause joined abolitionism and the early women’s rights movement together. They showed more courage than any white person in the South of their times, sacrificing both luxury and their family relationships to work for African-American freedom."

   My mother was born in Tennessee mountains and grew up in West Asheville, North Carolina, Thomas Wolfe's home of "You Can't Go Home Again" fame.  She disliked her narrow existence and fought against her mother's prejudices as much as she could as a young girl.   Finally in 1929 she went to New York to study nursing, but the Depression intervened.  She never went to college as a young person.  Finally, when she was able to go she went back at age 65 and completed her Bachelor's Degree through Goddard College West.  Her thesis: White Southerners Who Opposed Slavery.  She had always felt the south needed some good aspects told, even if they were few and far between.  Among the white southerners she studied were her own mountain people from Tennessee who spoke Elizabethan English for over 200 years, isolated as they were in the mountains, and Sarah and Angelina Grimke.
   One great advantage one has to being raised by thoughtful and studious people is that one is introduced to a wide range of ideas, people, places, and more.  I feel grateful that my two disparate and seriously unmatched parents at least opened my mind to certain ideas and things that I would never have known about otherwise.  Antislavery was one, civil rights, socialism, and a worldwide anti-fascist and communist movement were others.  Seriously, the concept of being a white ally of the  African American and other oppressed peoples in the United States was clearly at the forefront of my consciousness.  Historically, Sarah and Angelina Grimke were a variation on what those allies might have looked like in the 1800s -- early heroic and staunch sisters who were not afraid to go completely against the values and mores of their time.

   "A century later, the Grimke story had been largely forgotten: biographical dictionaries, for example, published entries on Weld without mentioning that Sarah Grimke was his co-author. Feminist historian Gerda Lerner revived interest in the sisters’ vital contribution to American history with a 1967 book, and it set the standard for modern women’s history. 1"

Lerner, Gerda. The Grimké sisters from South Carolina; rebels against slavery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

                              Angelina (1805-1879) and Sarah Grimke (1792-1873)

                     Biography researched by Nadia T., The Baldwin School, Pennsylvania

   "Sarah Moore Grimke and Angelina Emily Grimké were the only white people of either gender who were born in the upper-class South, but rejected that luxurious lifestyle to fight against slavery. They also were among the very first to see the close connection between abolitionism and women’s rights.

   "Sarah was born on November 26, 1792, and Angelina was born on February 20, 1805. The sisters grew up in a wealthy slave-holding South Carolina family. They had all the privileges of Charleston society – the heart of ante-bellum Dixie -- but grew to strongly disapprove of slavery. Their large family so strongly disagreed with them that the Sarah, the older, did not tell anyone when she secretly taught slave children to read, something that violated state law."

   "In 1821, Sarah moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, and Angelina followed the same path a few years later, moving to Philadelphia in 1829. Angelina joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and wrote letters to newspapers protesting slavery from a woman’s point of view. This attracted the attention of abolitionists, who enlisted the Grimkes in the cause because they knew the cruelties of slavery firsthand.

  "The sisters were attacked most strongly when they began to make public speeches to audiences consisting of both genders, a practice that was considered shocking. In 1836, after Sarah was reprimanded for speaking at a Quaker meeting about abolition, the sisters moved to New York to work for its Anti-Slavery Society."


  "New York was even less fertile ground for abolitionists than Quaker-based Philadelphia, however, and the sisters continued to be criticized for their “unnatural” behavior in public speaking. They also began to write. Angelina’s Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836) was truly a courageous work. She not only discussed how slavery hurt blacks, but also how it damaged white women and the institution of the family. Southern society condoned male sexuality outside of marriage, with the result that “the faces of many black children bore silent testimony to their white fathers.” Postmasters seized and destroyed many of the copies, and hostility towards the Grimke sisters was so great that they never again would be able to visit their South Carolina home.

   "Despite this uproar, they continued. Sarah addressed another audience with Epistle to the Clergymen of the South (1836), and Angelina followed with Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States (1837). They toured Massachusetts in the summer of 1837, attracting hundreds of listeners every day; in the town of Lowell, 1,500 people – both men and women – came to hear them speak against slavery. Again, though, many people denounced them for having the audacity to speak to “promiscuous meetings of men and women together.” Clergymen in Massachusetts formally condemned their behavior, pointing out that St. Paul said women should be silent."

   "Undeterred, Angelina Grimke set another precedent in February of 1838, when she became the first woman to speak before a legislative committee; she presented an antislavery petition to Massachusetts lawmakers. In the same year, Sarah published Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman (1838). That work predated other feminist theorists by decades.

   "In May of 1838, Angelina married fellow abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld of Boston, and Sarah moved in with the couple. The next year, Sarah Grimke and Theodore Weld published a remarkable collection of newspaper stories that came directly from Southern papers. American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839) used the actual words of white Southerners in describing escaped slaves, slave auctions, and other incidents that demonstrated how routinely gross inhumanity was accepted as a natural part of the plantation economy. Again, the effect was shocking.

   "Like the Grimkes, Weld was a member of a prominent family, but wealthy conservatives in both the North and South rejected such idealistic rebels, and the three suffered financially in the next decades. Angelina was 33 at marriage, and her health also deteriorated with the birth of three children, Charles Stuart, Theodore, and Sarah. The three farmed and operated schools in the 1840s and 1850s, moving several times within New Jersey and Massachusetts. During this period, the sisters also experimented with the practical pantsuit-style clothing promoted by Amelia Bloomer, but – like other women’s rights leaders – they gave it up when their appearance distracted from their ideas."

   "They finally retired to the Hyde Park section of Boston in 1864. By then, the Civil War was in its last full year, and the sisters’ activism would switch to women’s rights. When the U.S. Constitution was amended to give civil rights to former slaves after the war, the Grimke sisters were among those who tested the gender-neutral language of the Fifteenth Amendment that granted the vote. They attempted to cast ballots in the 1870 election, but male Hyde Park officials rejected them and other women.

   "They also continued their efforts on behalf of racial equality. In 1868, Angelina and Sarah discovered that they had two nephews, Archibald Henry and Francis James, who were the sons of their brother Henry and a slave woman. In accordance with their beliefs, the sisters welcomed the boys into their family. One of them would marry Charlotte Forten, an outstanding Philadelphia black woman, and the sisters’ feminist legacy would continue through Charlotte Forten Grimke.

   "Sarah was nearly 80 when she attempted to vote for the first time, and she died three years later, two days prior to Christmas of 1873. Angelina Grimke Weld suffered a debilitating stroke and died on October 26, 1879. Weld lived on until 1895, but he never was as radical as the women.

   "In the process of fighting against slavery, the Grimké sisters discovered the prejudices that women face, and their cause joined abolitionism and the early women’s rights movement together. They showed more courage than any white person in the South of their times, sacrificing both luxury and their family relationships to work for African-American freedom."


Encyclopedia Britannica -   
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of U.S. History -   
National Park Service - 
PBS - God In America - 
Wikipedia -é_sisters 
National Women's History Museum - - Sarah Moore Grimke -
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - 
Harvard University -         

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