GrimkÉ (Weld), Angelina (Emily)

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GRIMKÉ (WELD), Angelina (Emily)

Born 20 February 1805, Charleston, South Carolina; died 26 October 1879, Hyde Park, Massachusetts

Also wrote under: A. E. Grimké, Angelina Grimké Weld

Daughter of John F. and Mary Smith Grimké; married Theodore D. Weld, 1838

An abolitionist and women's rights pioneer, Angelina Grimké launched her meteoric career in the abolitionist movement in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison published in The Liberator (1835).

Grimké's first pamphlet was Appeal to Christian Women of the Southern States (1836). In the Appeal she attacked the traditional religious justifications of slavery and focused instead on the God-given equality of the slave as human being. The most powerful and original part of the Appeal was her call to Southern women to take action against slavery. Though women lacked political power, they could free slaves who were their own property, ameliorate the conditions for other slaves, and petition legislatures for emancipation. Such actions might lead to fines or imprisonment; nevertheless, she called women to civil disobedience. She contended: "If a law commands me to sin, I will break it; if it calls me to suffer, I will let it take its course unresistingly." Grimké's Appeal was the only abolitionist message by a Southern woman addressed specifically to Southern women. As such it aroused violent opposition in the South.

Grimké's second pamphlet, An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States (1837), stressed women's particular responsibility to their fellow women in bondage. Female slaves are in fact "our countrywomen…our sisters." Both free and slave women suffered from discrimination; because of alleged mental inferiority, both were denied educational opportunities. Grimké denounced not only slavery but also Northern race prejudice. She condemned segregation patterns as a "wicked absurdity" in a republic. Such prejudice, she contended, radically limited Northern influence on the South.

Letters to Catharine E. Beecher (1838) came in response to Beecher's Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with Reference to the Duty of American Females (1837). Beecher had attacked Grimké both for advocating abolition and for urging women's involvement therein. In the Letters, first published serially in the Liberator and the Emancipator in 1837, Grimké concentrated primarily on a detailed defense of the efficacy of immediate abolition. She condemned the gradualism Beecher advocated and called for a program of immediate abolition including equal rights to education and equal protection under the laws. Such a program, she acknowledged, would bring major changes in Northern society as well as Southern. And Grimké welcomed the prospect.

In the two letters which dealt specifically with Beecher's concept of women's limited sphere, Grimké developed a strong feminist argument based on a doctrine of human rights. According to Grimké, "human beings have rights because they are moral beings." As moral beings, women no less than men must act publicly on moral issues. As human beings, women should participate in making all laws concerning their own condition. She saw a new cause emerging out of the abolitionist controversy, a broad drive to reclaim the usurped rights of all disadvantaged persons, including women and slaves.

When she married Theodore Weld, her career as a writer came to an end. She collaborated with him and her sister, Sarah, in compiling American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839). Some speeches and a letter on women's rights were later published. But it is upon the three works written between 1836 and 1838 that her reputation rests.

As a writer, Grimké has a forceful and clean-cut style. Her arguments are lucid and cogent, and she writes with ease and directness. She utilizes 18th-century reformist ideas to support her arguments, drawing heavily on environmentalist theories to explain the perversion of original equality. She also draws on 18th-century republican ideology with its stress on the imperative necessity for moral virtue among citizens if the republic is to survive. Above all, however, as a 19th-century evangelical reformer, she relies on religious arguments. The Bible offered the standard of judgement by which to determine the evils of slavery. It offered the religious-historical role models for women undertaking responsible moral action against slavery. In her religious convictions, Grimké found the basis for the formulation of the doctrine of human rights. In so doing, she finally fused the two causes with which her private life and her public career became identified, abolition and women's rights.

Other Works:

The papers of Angelina Grimké Weld are housed in the Moorhead-Springarn Research Center of Howard University in Washington, D.C.


Barnes, G. H., and D. L. Dumond, eds., Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld, and Sarah Grimké: 1822-1844 (2 vols., 1934). Birney, C., The Grimké Sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimké: The First Women Advocates of Abolition and Woman's Rights (1885). Ceplair, L., ed., The Public Years of Sarah and Angelina Grimké: Selected Writings, 1835-1839 (1989). Hull, G. T., Color, Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance (1987). Lerner, G., The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery (1967). Lumpkin, K. Du Pre, The Emancipation of Angelina Grimké (1974). Miller, E. M., The Other Construction: Where Violence and Womanhood Meet in the Writings of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Angelina Grimké Weld, and Nella Larsen (1999). Weld, T. D., In Memory: Angelina Grimké Weld (1880).

Reference works:

HWS, I. NAW (1971). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).


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GrimkÉ (Weld), Angelina (Emily)

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