Raised on a plantation in the South, these two sisters became strong advocates to abolish slavery. The oldest, Sarah Grimke, accompanied her wealthy father to Philadelphia to seek medical treatment. While there, she met members of the Society of Friends. Returning to Charleston, she eventually became a Quaker and moved to Philadelphia where she became actively involved in the drive to end slavery.
Her young sister, Angelina Grimke, soon joined her sister in the north and also become active in the cause of freedom for the slaves.
This move, or course, made them outcasts with their family and former friends. Angelina only added to the South’s outrage when she wrote an Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. In that writing she wrote
I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken.”
While this brought the anger of the Southern population, it also made northern men unhappy. Many of them felt that a woman did not have the right to speak out about issues that were so controversial and political.
The opposition to her expressing her views not only did not stop her from speaking out about slavery, it also caused her and her sister to become outspoken agents for women’s rights.
Joining the American Anti-Slavery Society, the sisters began to speak to small groups of women in private homes and as their popularity grew, they soon moved to making appearances before much larger audiences, often ones that included men. Both sisters wrote on women’s right to equality in society. Angelina published Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States and Sarah followed up with Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women.
Angelina married an abolitionist, Theodore Weld. Since he was not a Quaker the sisters were kicked out of the Society of Friends. The three of them moved to New Jersey and started a boarding school teaching students. When the Civil War broke out, they wrote to President Lincoln giving their support for the freedom of the slaves.
They discovered that their brother Henry had two sons by an enslaved women. They reached out and began a close relationship with the young men and supported their education. One of the men, Archie, studied law at Harvard and the other, Francis, went to Princeton Theological Seminary. Both men became leaders in the black community.
Frances was pastor of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This church was founed in 1841 as the First Colored Presbyterian Church. Rev. Grimke served as the third pastor for more than 50 years beginning in 1877. From his pulpit he called for civil rights, fought against racism in American churches, helped found the American Negro Academy in 1897 and was part of the group working to create the NAACP.
Archibald (Archie) Grimké had a distinguished career as a lawyer. He also created the first African-American newspaper, the Hub. He attended the first conference of the NAACP and worked with that organization the rest of his life.
Both women fought for women’s rights and for equal and fair treatment of the blacks after the Civil War. .They were active in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association leading a protest of women on March 7, 1870 when they illegally voted in an election.
As I read about these women, I was challenged by their willingness to leave a life where they were pampered and waited on to speak out and fight for the rights of blacks. To not be afraid of those who tried to silence them as being less than equal of men. It is sad to me that many who have benefited from their fight do not even know their names.
In 1998 they were both posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.