Angelina Grimke

Honored by:Joan Dee Rottler
Brick location:D:14  map

Sarah and Angelina Grimke--Pioneers for Abolition of Slavery and for Women's Rights.

Sarah Grimke (1792-1873), and her younger sister, Angelina (1805-1879), were born and raised as wealthy Southern aristocrats. Their father, Judge John Grimke, was part of the ruling elite of South Carolina, and their mother, Mary Smith Grimke, was also from one of the wealthy, old families of the South. With this background, it is astonishing that they would overcome their training to be genteel young ladies, and not only reject slavery but go against family and community in speaking out against it. In so doing, they would raise the issue of the proper role of women in American culture, and become two of the first women to articulate the cause of the rights of women to equal status with men. They would also call down a storm of protest at their "improper behavior", being vilified by clergy in particular, and being forbidden to return to Charleston by the officials of that city.

In becoming the first white female abolitionist speakers, they traveled extensively in New England, speaking to women's church groups originally, and then to mixed groups as well. They are credited with not only raising awareness of the evils of slavery, but with opposing racist policies in the North. Angelina became the first woman to address a legislative body, when in 1838, she spoke to the Massachusetts State Legislature on the subject of abolition where she presented petitions of 20000 signatures of women supporting that cause. She wrote Letters to Catherine Beecher which appeared in The Emancipator and The Liberator, in which she argued with Beecher's statement that women should remain behind the scenes in matters of public policy. Sarah Grimke wrote Letters on the Equality of the Sexes in which she attacked the Biblical argument that women's inferior status was God-given, holding that the Scriptures had necessarily reflected the patriarchal society which had produced them. She claimed that women had been created by God to be equal companions of men and issued these ringing phrases: " I ask no favors for my sex ... All I ask our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed for to occupy."

They would be followed some ten years later by Elizabeth Cady Stanton's famous paraphrasing of the Declaration of Independence at the Seneca Fall's convention in 1848 the first official gathering of women's rights advocates. Most people have heard of Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and even Carrie Chapman Catt. Many have not known of these two brave foremothers Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Their story is wonderfully told in Dr. Gerda Lerner's "The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman's Rights and Abolition”, which should be a must reading for all of us who wish to honor those who have made the present day rights of women and blacks possible.

Submitted by: Joan Dee Brockman Rottler
Class of 1965
Religious Studies Instructor, ISU.