The Grimké Sisters, Early American Abolitionists and Feminists


Angelina Emily Grimké Weld (1805–1879) Copy of engraved portrait of Angelina Grimké, ca. 1845. From Woman's Rights Collection, 1853–1958, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute.

I recently finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, a novel about an urban slave in early 19th-century Charleston, South Carolina, and her owners, the Grimké family. The author tells us that she was inspired by the historic figures of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the first female abolition agents and among the earliest American feminists. According to Kidd, “Sarah was the first woman in the United States to write a comprehensive feminist manifesto, and Angelina was the first woman to speak before a legislative body.” After Sarah moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, she began speaking publicly against slavery and crusading for women’s rights. With her sister, Angelina, and Angelina’s husband, Theodore Weld, she wrote American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, a book that influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published 13 years later.

Since we have a well-developed collection of abolitionist materials, I decided to check out our catalog to see if the Phillips Library held any books by or about the Grimkés. We have copies of several of their published works, including American Slavery mentioned above.

In 1835, Angelina wrote a letter against slavery that William Lloyd Garrison published in his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, of which we have several copies in our collection.

Angelina Grimké wrote her first pamphlet, Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, in 1836 to encourage southern women to join the abolitionist movement for the sake of white womanhood as well as black slaves.

Appeal to the Christian Women of the South by Angelina Grimké Weld (1836)

Responding to an attack by Catharine Beecher on her public speaking, Angelina wrote a series of letters to Beecher, later published with the title Letters to Catharine Beecher. She staunchly defended the abolitionist cause and her right to publicly speak for that cause.

Letters to Catharine E. Beecher in reply to an Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism by Angelina Grimké Weld (1838)

Sarah’s writings include the following:

Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman; Addressed to Mary S. Parker by Sarah M. Grimké (1838)

We also have a copy of An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States by Sarah M. Grimké (1836).

In 1838, Angelina married the abolitionist Theodore Weld, and they moved with Sarah to Belleville, New Jersey, where they opened a school. During the Civil War two and a half decades later, both sisters provided public support to Abraham Lincoln in letters and speeches.

Following the Civil War, Angelina moved with her husband Theodore to Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Sarah eventually joined Angelina and her husband, where the two sisters continued to campaign for women’s rights until the end of their lives. Sarah died on December 23, 1873, and Angelina died six years later on October 26, 1879.

We also hold a copy of In Memory: Angelina Grimké Weld, which contains a description of Angelina’s funeral service and the remarks made, bound with memorial sketches of her sister, Sarah Moore Grimké.

In Memory: Angelina Grimké Weld (1880)

Please come by and check out these and other fascinating works in the Phillips Library. Or you can check out our online catalog PHILCAT for further information.

3 thoughts on “The Grimké Sisters, Early American Abolitionists and Feminists

  1. Very enlightening to learn history from Sue Monk Kidd’s historic fiction The Wings of Invention. Lerner’s 1967 biography of the two Grimke Sisters still astounds me in their achievements and life choices.

    Your website makes me curious about their fine w ork many years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin hit the world as a bestseller,

    Martha F. Barkley toured Charleston, SC Grimke walking tour May 8, 2015

  2. Correction: walking tour of Grimke sites in charleston, sc May 6, 2015, Wednesday group…very enlightening, Heyward-Washington House where one sister was born, St. Phillips Episcopal and First (Scots) Presbyterian churches, Quaker Meeting site and cemetery, factory location, Slave Mart, etc.

  3. Tour of charleston, sc was very historical of sites for the Grimke sisters: several churches, site of Quaker meeting, home where one sister was born and lived for years, etc. Tour guides are working on more info for soon to be published new book. My favorite was the 1967 biography of these two extraordinary women from charleston who moved north for abolitionist work.

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