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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Angelina Grimké
(1805-1879)


In the 1830s, the Grimké sisters became major publicists on behalf of women’s rights and anti-slavery. Earlier, they had shocked their prominent South Carolina slaveholding family by publicly aligning themselves with Garrisonian abolitionism. Because they lectured in public to “promiscuous” audiences of men and women, they placed themselves beyond the boundaries defining women’s decent behavior in nineteenth-century America.

The slavery system had long distressed both women. After Sarah moved to Philadelphia and joined the Society of Friends, her younger sister followed. Then in 1835, reading that anti-slavery women had been mobbed in Boston, Angelina impulsively wrote to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and embraced the cause of the anti-slavery activists. When Garrison published her letter in his newspaper The Liberator (without her knowledge or her consent), even Sarah condemned her. Nonetheless, Angelina persisted in her radical behavior and politics. In An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836), she argues the validity of her new-found public role and urges her southern “sisters” to act to end chattel slavery and to break the laws, if necessary, to do so.

Angelina became an “agent” of the American Anti-Slavery Society, speaking to small groups of women in the New York City area. Sarah soon joined her on the platform, and increasingly, curious men came to listen. In the summer of 1837, both Grimké sisters lectured throughout New England for the anti-slavery movement. When the educator Catharine Beecher attacked them by arguing that women should restrict themselves to the domestic sphere, Angelina Grimké responded in ringing tones with Letters to Catharine Beecher asserting the correctness of the abolitionist cause and arguing that women can act appropriately wherever and however men can—both in private and in public.

While her younger sister composed her vigorous reply to Beecher, Sarah Grimké was framing Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman. Sarah Grimké rooted her pioneering feminist arguments in her lifelong study of theology. Even the electric phrases that sometimes flash from her Latinate prose—such as the “root of bitterness” she identifies as “the mistaken notion of the inequality of the sexes”—are scriptural.

The public careers of the Grimké sisters ended in 1838, when Angelina married abolitionist Theodore Weld. The sisters’ anti-slavery arguments, however, came to define abolitionism to many Americans, and their writings on women’s rights became the grounding of later works by Margaret Fuller, and the thinking of the women who established an American feminist movement at Seneca Falls in 1848. In addition, the presence of the Grimké sisters on the public platform inspired a new generation of women, like Abby Kelley Foster and Lucy Stone, to speak in public and to assert women’s presence in public life.
Jean Fagan Yellin
Pace University


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
from Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)
Letters to Catherine Beecher
      Letter XI (1837)
      Letter XII (1837)
Written with Sarah Moore Grimké; Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman
      Letter VIII: The Condition of Women in the United States (1838)
      Letter XV: Man Equally Guilty with Woman in the Fall (1838)

Other Works
Rachel (1920)



Cultural Objects
Image fileAbolitionist Sisterhood

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Links

About the Poet
(http://www.sappho.com/poetry/historical/a_grimke.html)
Biography, collection of works, and bibliography.

Angelina Grimke (1803 - 1879)
(http://www.cas.ilstu.edu/English/351/hypertext98/hankins/african/AGrimke.html)
A brief biography.

Angelina W. Grimke
(http://www.nku.edu/~diesmanj/grimke.html)
Texts of five poems by A. Grimke.


Secondary Sources

Gerda Lerner, The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery, 1967

Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, The Emancipation of Angelina Grimke, 1974

Jean Fagan Yellin, Women and Sisters: The Antislavery Feminists in American Culture, 1989





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