Friday, February 20, 2009

Angelina and Sarah Grimke

Angelina Grimke was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on this day in 1805. She and her older sister Sarah are famous anti-slavery advocates and early supporters of women's rights in America. An article from 1913 in a Philadelphia Quaker newspaper, The Friend, contains this brief description of them:
They were daughters of a prominent wealthy Judge in South Carolina, brought up in a home of luxury where every want was ministered to by slaves; but at the death of their father they felt it right to manumit the slaves that fell to their lot in the settling of the estate, and to seek a home in the North. At great pecuniary sacrifice they did this, and as Philadelphia was the place they selected, it is no wonder that Friends were the first people to notice them, and, in return, that they should be drawn to the Society of which their benefactors were members.
Lucy Stone wrote an eloquent appreciation of Angelina's life as an obituary in 1880. Published in the Woman's Journal, which Stone edited, it was reprinted in a Philadelphia Quaker paper, Friends' Intelligencer. Worth reading in full, it is copied below.*

Visiting New York in 1841, the English Quaker, Joseph Sturge, recorded a visit with them:
Angelina Grimke Weld, and her sister, Sarah Grimke, were natives of South Carolina, the daughters of a distinguished Judge of that State; for several years they resided in Philadelphia. Having long felt a deep interest in the condition of the slaves, in the year 1837 they, in accordance with what they believed to be a sense of religious duty, visited New York and New England, to plead the cause of those, with whose sorrows, degradation, and cruel sufferings, they had been familiar in their native State. They are evidently women of superior endowments, kind-hearted and energetic, and still retain something of the warmth and fervour of character peculiar to the South.[1]
A contemporary diarist, Pliny Earle, described the two sisters in 1837:
They are very intelligent and capable, and very much devoted to the abolition cause. Angelina takes the lead in public estimation. She is the best rhetorician, has the best person and voice, with a very imposing manner, and is considered eloquent. S. J. May, in speaking of one of her lectures, says he "never before heard such eloquence from human lips." Yet we were better pleased with Sarah. Her mind is naturally superior to Angelina's, and has been better disciplined. Her feelings, also, have been more disciplined; and that of itself has an important influence on character.
He also gives an instance of their success in opposing the Calvinist clergy of Massachusetts:
The First Day, on the evening of which Angelina was to give her first lecture, Woodbridge, minister of the Union Society, exhorted his hearers, as they loved religion, as they loved him, and by the most solemn obligations which rest upon Christians, not to violate their duty and their principles so much as to go and hear those who trampled under foot that Scripture which declares that a woman is not allowed to be heard in the church. Yet that very evening it is said that both his deacons and a great portion of his church members went to hear her, and I now hear that only four of his church members approve his views on the slave question. The walls of prejudice are evidently giving way. Abolition is looked upon, among Friends, with very different eyes from what it formerly was. An Indiana yearly meeting has recently advised its members, individually, to aid other Christians engaged in the work of anti-slavery.
The Pastoral Letter, an 1837 poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, expresses outrage at the clerical opposition to the sisters. Responding to a pastoral letter against female preaching from the General Association of Congregational ministers in Massachusetts, he wrote, in part:
So, this is all,--the utmost reach
Of priestly power the mind to fetter!
When laymen think, when women preach,
A war of words, a "Pastoral Letter!"
Now, shame upon ye, parish Popes!
Was it thus with those, your predecessors,
Who sealed with racks, and fire, and ropes
Their loving-kindness to transgressors?
. . .
For, if ye claim the "pastoral right"
To silence Freedom's voice of warning,
And from your precincts shut the light
Of Freedom's day around ye dawning;
. . .
What marvel, if the people learn
To claim the right of free opinion?
What marvel, if at times they spurn
The ancient yoke of your dominion?
. . .
But ye, who scorn the thrilling tale
Of Carolina's high-souled daughters,
Which echoes here the mournful wail
Of sorrow from Edisto's waters,
Close while ye may the public ear,
With malice vex, with slander wound them,
The pure and good shall throng to hear,
And tried and manly hearts surround them.
. . .
[Edisto = a beach south of Charleston, SC]
source: The Pastoral Letter. by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1837

{Angelina and Sarah Grimke. source: Library of Congress}

{Angelina and Sarah Grimke
Photos of Angelina (left) and Sarah Grimké. These two carte de visite photos were taken in Hyde Park, Mass. Angelina, then married to abolitionist Theodore D. Weld for many years, probably had this photo taken about 1875, possibly a bit earlier. It was taken in Hyde Park by the Barritt studio. Sarah's was taken sometime around 1870 by J.D Crane, Photographer, located at Connor's Block. These photos were made available by Hampton resident Robert Jackson. They may be downloaded and used by others with the following attribution: "Courtesy of The Lane Memorial Library and Robert M. Jackson of Hampton, NH".}

Friends' Intelligencer
Published by Wm. W. Moore, 1880

From the Woman's Journal of Eleventh month 1st we take the following account of the life of this brave and faithful advocate of the cause of the oppressed.

She was in early life a member of the Society of Friends, and her life was marked by great sincerity and simplicity throughout its many changes,

She left written directions in regard to her burial: "I have purposely selected my old clothes to be buried in, that my good ones may be given to the poor, that they may do them good after I am gone."

Angelina Grimke Weld died at her residence in Hyde Park on Sunday night last, aged seventy-four years and eight mouths. She was born in Charleston, S. C., Feb. 20, 1805. Her father was John F. Grimke, judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina for a number of years.

Born and reared in the midst of slavery, she yet always felt great aversion to it, in all its forms, refusing to own a maid which her mother gave her to wait on her, and often using all her power with her family and friends against the condition of slavery. She came North to cast in her lot with the Abolitionists. Their cause was her cause. For the slaves' sake she endured all the persecution which sectarian bigotry and pro slavery hatred could devise against the first woman who dared to "speak in the church" or anywhere else in public.

It is impossible for those who to day see and hear women aa ministers and lecturers, to understand the state of mind and feeling forty-three years ago, when no woman's voice was heard in public anywhere, and when the injunction for her to "keep silence" in the church was held to be as sacred as the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."

At such a time Angelina Grimke and her sister, Sarah Grimke, came forward to plead for the slave, and to answer the arguments of the apologists of slavery. Angelina had rare gifts. The eloquence which is born of earnestness in a noble purpose gave her anointed lips. It set around her a defence so strong and high that all the shafts and arrows of pro-slavery malignity fell harmless around her. She never stopped to think of herself. "Silence!" cried the pulpit. She spoke right on. "Shame!" said the press. "You are seeking notoriety," said all the gossips, and "getting out of your sphere." How like forgotten echoes those words come back! Angelina Grimke, if the heard, did not heed. A friend who knew her singleness of purpose, stung by this injustice and meanness, prepared a reply to these unnumbered and cruel attacks. But when Angelina heard of this plan or purpose, she refused to permit its publication, and said, "It is not necessary." She was justified to herself and that was enough.

She wrote an appeal to the Christian women of the South, which was sent broadcast over the North as well as the South; she visited New York by invitation, where she spoke in public on several occasions on the slavery question; she visited Massachusetts in 1836 and spoke several times before a committee of the Legislature on the same subject, and also delivered six lectures in the Odeon.

In 1838 she married Theodore D. Weld, who also had consecrated his great powers of mind and utterance to the service of the slave. In connection with him she assisted in writing, "Slavery As It Is: or the Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses," and several other articles published by the Anti-Slavery Society. Soon after her marriage she received an injury which prevented her from taking an active part in the movement personally, but she continued writing articles from her personal knowledge and observation. Quietly in her own home she still did what she could to further the cause of freedom. When emancipation came the freedmen were never forgotten by her. Clothes and books and many comforts packed in her house went down to their relief. She also once went herself.

At the time of the division of her father's property she and her sister, Sarah Grimke, requested that their share of the property might be in slaves, with the idea of emancipating them, but when they found they could not be liberated in South Carolina, as they would be sold again by auction, their brother became their technical owner, and they were finally liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation.

Several years ago Mrs. Weld had a paralytic stroke, from which she measurably recovered, though she has been in feeble health ever since.

In her last illness, when her mind wandered, she was back again in the scenes of her early life, and again urged the release of the slaves, "who had reaped down iheir fields, and whose wages had been kept back by fraud." She hummed again the old tune she sang when a young girl, and with her face all illuminated, sang, "Happy, happy, happy!" Her last breath went away so quietly that those who looked on could not tell when her spirit went.

The women of to day owe more than they will ever know to the high courage, the rare insight, and fidelity to principle of this woman, by whose sufferings easy paths have made for them.

Neither the justice of her cause, nor its great need, nor the quiet, persuasive eloquence with which she remembered those in bonds as bound with them, saved her and her equally noble coadjutors, Sarah Grimke and Abby Kelly Foster, from the pitiless scorn of men and women. If for once their lips had turned white with fear, or their feet fled before the mob, the banner for the equal rights of women which now floats plain in sight would still be furled.

A few years ago, after the death of Jane Smith, in Philadelphia, with whom in those perilous times Angelina Grimke found shelter and a home, the letters of Miss Grimke to Mrs. Smith were returned. These letters, written in the confidence and with the fullness of friendship, contain as nowhere else tie history of the fiery trials through which these first steps were cut in the solid rock of custom and prejudice to make a highway for other women. Should they be given to the public, as they ought to be, those who read them will know better than can now be told at what a great price the enlarged sphere and assured rights of women have been earned.

Her example is a bugle call to all other women. We shall never hear her voice. Her lips are silent. But "though dead she yet speaketh." L.S.
Lucy Stone eulegized the Grimke's again in a speech given on March 31, 1888 to a meeting of the International Council of Women. See Report of the International Council of Women, National Woman Suffrage Association (U.S.), 1888

Some sources:

A Visit to the United States in 1841
By Joseph Sturge
Published by Hamilton, Adams, 1842

Memoirs of Pliny Earle, M.D.
By Franklin Benjamin Sanborn
Published by Damrell & Upham, 1898

Report of the International Council of Women
By International Council of Women, National Woman Suffrage Association (U.S.)
Published by R. H. Darby, printer, 1888

The Friendly Craft
By Elizabeth Deering Hanscom
Published by The Macmillan Company, 1908

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