| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
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|
In the Heath Anthology
from Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
Letters to Catherine Beecher
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
Letter XV: Man Equally Guilty with Woman in the Fall
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About the Poet
Biography, collection of works, and bibliography.
Angelina Grimke (1803 - 1879)
A brief biography.
Angelina W. Grimke
Texts of five poems by A. Grimke.
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