Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879) and Sarah Moore
Contributing Editor: Jean Fagan Yellin
Angelina Grimké's Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
is filled with biblical quotations and allusions; it is written as an evangelical
appeal, as the appeal of a Christian woman to other Christian women to
act to end chattel slavery. Not only is the language that of evangelical
abolitionism, but the logic is as tightly constructed as a Christian sermon.
In short, it is difficult to read. In like manner, the language in Sarah
M. Grimké's Letters on the Equality
is Latinate, stiff, and
formal. Her language, too, makes slow going for the modern reader.
Try teaching Angelina Grimké's Appeal to the Christian Women
of the South
as a religious argument. The informing notion here is
that slavery is sin, and that immediate abolition of slavery means immediate
abolition of sin, perhaps immediate salvation. Grimké's tactic is
to legitimize--using biblical references--the unprecedented involvement
of American women in the public controversy over chattel slavery. She is
arguing that slavery is sin and must be ended immediately; and she is arguing
that women not only can end it, but that they are duty-bound as Christians
to do so.
Read Angelina Grimké's Letters to Catharine Beecher
a completely different version of the same argument. Where Appeal
was couched in religious rhetoric and theological argument, Letters
is written from a political perspective. It is useful to compare/contrast
these, to see Grimké moving, both intellectually and formally, toward
a secular stance and toward a straightforward assertion of women's political
Consider the following approach with Sarah Grimké's Letters
on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman, Addressed to Mary
S. Parker, President of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society
students discover that the title suggests the letter's central ideas: first
concerning the equality of the sexes, which, Grimké argues, was
created by God, and second concerning the condition of woman, which, she
argues, is oppressive and which was imposed not by God but by man. The
full title concludes with the phrase Addressed to Mary S. Parker, President
of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society
. This points toward Grimké's
suggestion that the way to rectify the current sinful situation is by women
uniting, organizing, and acting, as in the Boston FASS under the leadership
of Parker. The title spells out the argument of the Letters
is basically a theological argument for women's rights.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
In a letter she had impulsively written to the abolitionist Garrison
Angelina Grimké had aligned herself with the abolitionists. Garrison
published the letter without her consent, and she was condemned by her
meeting (she had become a Quaker [Orthodox]) and even by her sister, her
main emotional support. She stuck by her guns. However, although she refused
to recant, she was for a time unable to decide what action she should next
take. Writing the Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
the first public abolitionist document that Angelina Grimké wrote
as a public document, to be printed with her name on it. Here she commits
herself, as a southern woman of the slave-holding class, to abolitionism--and
to an investigation of women's activism in the anti-slavery cause.
A. E. Grimké wrote the Letters to Catharine Beecher
the weekly press during the summer of 1837, while she was traveling and
lecturing as an "agent" of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
She wrote them to answer Catharine Beecher's attack on her lecturing that
had been published as An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism, with Reference
to the Duty of American Females, Addressed to A. E. Grimké
Beecher, a leading educator, developed the notion of the moral superiority
of females and, asserting the importance of the home, argued that women
should oppose slavery within the domestic circle but should not enter the
public political sphere--as Angelina Grimké was doing. In her Letters
Angelina Grimké defends her almost unprecedented behavior by arguing
for women's political rights. The Letters
should also be read in
relation to the abolitionists' petitions--to local, state, and national
legislative bodies--to end slavery and to outlaw various racist practices.
These petitions were circulated by men and, as Grimké urges here,
by women as well. Historians have traced the later petition campaigns of
the feminists to these anti-slavery petition campaigns.
, Sarah Grimké raises a whole range of feminist
issues-- the value of housework, wage differentials between men and women,
women's education, fashion, and the demand that women be allowed to preach.
(She was bitter that she had not been permitted to do so.) Furthermore,
she discusses the special oppression of black women and of women held in
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Angelina Grimké's Letters
should be read and contrasted
with her Appeal
, then with other writings by nineteenth-century
feminists, both black and white.
Similarly, Sarah Grimké's Letters
should be read and contrasted
with pre-1848 feminists like Margaret
, then with Stanton
et. al. This text marks a beginning. American feminist discourse emerges
from this root.
Angelina Grimké's Appeal
: Audience is stated as the Christian
women of the South; by this Grimké means the free white women--many
of them slave-holders, as she herself had been--who profess Christianity.
It is worthwhile examining the ways in which she defines these women, and
exploring the similarities and differences between her approach to them
and the patriarchal definition of true womanhood generally endorsed at
the time. The patriarchy was projecting "true womanhood" as piety,
purity, domesticity, and obedience. Angelina Grimké urges her readers
to break the law if the law is immoral--to be obedient not to fathers,
husbands, and human laws, but to a Higher Law that condemns slavery. And
she urges them to act not only within the "domestic sphere" allocated
to women, but also within the "public sphere" that was exclusively
Angelina Grimké's Letters
: Written directly to Catharine
Beecher, these were published weekly in the abolitionist press, then compiled
into a pamphlet that became an abolitionist staple and stands as an early
expression of the notions that would inform the feminist movement in 1848.
Sarah Grimké's Letters on the Equality
, like Angelina's
Letters to Catharine Beecher
, were published in the weekly press,
then collected and published as a pamphlet.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Compare Angelina Grimké's Appeal
Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans
both with African-American anti-slavery writings by Walker
, and Brown
As suggested above, Angelina Grimké's Appeal
and her Letters
to Catharine Beecher
present an interesting comparison. Both might
be read in connection with the writings on women by Fuller
, as well as in
connection with the responses to chattel slavery by white women like the
and northerners like Child and Stowe
as well as by African-American women like Truth, Jacobs, and Harper.
Sarah Grimké's Letters
should be read in relation to the
writings of other nineteenth-century feminists like Stanton
and in relation to anti-feminist polemics, as well as in relation to depictions
of women in nineteenth-century literature by writers such as Hawthorne
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
Direct students' attention to the epigraph to Angelina Grimké's
. Why Queen Esther? In what ways do Grimké's Letters
differ from her Appeal
? How is the argument different? How is the
style different? What are the consequences of these differences? In what
ways do Sarah Grimké's Letters
differ from her sister's writings?
Why did the later feminists designate Sarah Grimké's Letters
on the Equality
an important precursor?
See the primary and secondary works listed in headnote.