Grimké, Angelina E. (1805–1879)

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Grimké, Angelina E. (1805–1879)

Southern-born American abolitionist, writer and lecturer who campaigned for the extinction of slavery and worked toward resolution of the question of woman's rights. Name variations: Angelina Emily Grimké or Grimke; Nina; Angelina Grimké Weld. Pronunciation: GRIM-kay. Born Angelina Emily Grimké on February 20, 1805, in Charleston, South Carolina; died in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, on October 26, 1879; daughter and youngest child of the Honorable John Faucheraud (a judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina) and Mary (Smith) Grimké; sister of Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873); attended Charleston Academy for Girls; married Theodore Dwight Weld, on May 14, 1838; children: Charles Stuart Weld (b. 1839); Theodore Weld (b. 1841); Sarah Grimké Weld (b. 1844).

Entered Charleston Academy for Girls (1819); expelled from Charleston Presbyterian Church (May 1829); accepted into Philadelphia Society of Friends (March 1831); published first antislavery writings (1835); attended Antislavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia (May 1837); undertook New England speaking tour against slavery (1837–38); addressed legislative committee of Massachusetts Assembly (February 1838); elected to central committee of Women's Rights Convention, Worcester, Massachusetts (1850); retired from schoolteaching (1867).

Selected publications:

"Slavery and the Boston Riot: A Letter to Wm. L. Garrison" (broadside, Philadelphia, August 30, 1835); (with Sarah Moore Grimké) "A Sketch of Thomas Grimké's Life written by his sisters in Philadelphia and sent to his Friends in Charleston for their Approbation," in The Calumet, magazine of the American Peace Society (1835); Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States (New York, 1836); An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally-Free States (1837); Letters to Catherine E. Beecher, in Reply to an Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism,

Addressed to A.E. Grimké (1838); Letters from Angelina Grimké Weld, to the Woman's Rights Convention, held at Syracuse, September 1852 (Syracuse, 1852). Published speeches: before the Legislative Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, printed in The Liberator (May 2, 1838); in Pennsylvania Hall (May 16, 1838); before the Women's Loyal League (May 14, 1863); "Address to the Soldiers of our Second Revolution," resolution read and adopted by the business meeting of the Women's Loyal League (May 15, 1863).

On May 16, 1838, two days after her marriage to abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké attended an antislavery convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she was one of several women and men scheduled to speak. Over 3,000 reformers were assembled in the recently dedicated Pennsylvania Hall, and a noisy and hostile crowd had gathered outside the building. Following the opening address by William Lloyd Garrison, some of the mob managed to break inside, but they retreated when the first speaker, Maria Chapman , began her oration. Grimké was next, and when she rose she was greeted by bricks crashing through the windows and pieces of glass falling to the floor. As the listening audience grew uneasy, Grimké raised her voice:

Men, brethren and fathers—mothers, daughter and sisters, what came ye out for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? Is it curiosity merely, or a deep sympathy with the perishing slave, that has brought this large audience together? … As a Southerner I feel it is my duty to stand up here tonight and bear testimony against slavery. I have seen it—I have seen it. I know it has horrors that can never be described. … I have never seen a happy slave. … I have exiled myself from my native land because I could no longer endure to hear the wailing of the slave.

The speech went on for over an hour, while the crowd outside the hall continued to throw stones. Finally Grimké closed by urging the women in the audience, particularly, to exercise their right to petition their state legislatures. It was to be her last formal, public speech for the cause of abolition.

Angelina Emily Grimké, called Nina, was born February 20, 1805, in Charleston, South Carolina, the 14th and youngest child of John Faucheraud Grimké, a judge of the South Carolina Supreme Court, and Mary Smith Grimké . A sister, Sarah Moore Grimké , who was 13 years her senior, stood as godmother at her christening. The family were slaveowners of wealth and high social standing; the stature of the judge made them part of the ruling elite. Growing up, the Grimké children received the majority of their care and personal attention from house slaves, modified in Angelina's case by the loving attention of her godmother-sister, whom she addressed as "mother" from an early age. Since most of her siblings were many years her senior, she effectively grew up as an only child, and displayed the strong and outgoing personality of a highly self-assured and active person.

Though some of her older siblings had been tutored at home, Angelina was sent to the Charleston Academy for Girls at age 14, beginning a gradual separation from her family that took some years to complete. Her first year at the academy coincided with the departure of her father and sister Sarah for Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as the judge sought treatment for what proved to be a fatal illness. Meanwhile, Angelina was confronted at the academy for the first time with physical evidence of the evils of slavery when she witnessed the scars on the body of a young slave boy. The effect was so distressing that the young girl fainted.

By 1824, when Angelina Grimké experienced the social rituals of "coming-of-age" in Charleston society, her sister Sarah had been living in Philadelphia for three years. In April 1826, Angelina exchanged the Episcopalianism of her family for Presbyterianism, and became an active member of the congregation in her new church. As a teacher of large Sunday School classes and an organizer of interfaith prayer meetings for women in Charleston, she was regarded by the society around her as somewhat unorthodox, but tolerable, as she operated within the 19th-century ideology of separate spheres of activity and influence for women and men.

When she initiated daily prayer meetings for her family's plantation slaves, however, her behavior was considered far less acceptable. It was a threat to the society to put her questioning of the morality of slavery into action. Then Grimké approached the Presbyterian minister in Charleston. Though a Northerner, who readily admitted that slavery was evil, he argued that its abolition would only foster worse evils in its place. Dissatisfied by his advice that she pursue prayer and work, Grimké chose instead to challenge the slave-owning church elders at one of their meetings. After they, too, refused to speak out against slavery, her regular attendance at church began to decline.

In the winter of 1827, after a visit from her sister Sarah who had joined the Society of Friends, Grimké began irregular attendance at Quaker meetings in Charleston. By February 1828, she had adopted the Quaker style of noting calendar dates, and, in May 1829, she was called before the Charleston Presbyterian Church Session for neglect of her public worship. Though the issue of slavery and her opposition to it was not mentioned during the proceedings, Grimké eventually received a letter expelling her from the church.

We Abolition Women are turning the world upside down.

—Angelina Grimké

Chapman, Maria (1806–1885)

American abolitionist. Born Maria Weston in Weymouth, Massachusetts, on July 25, 1806; died on July 12, 1885, in Weymouth; educated in Europe; married Henry G. Chapman (a liberal merchant), in October 1830 (died 1842); lived in Paris, 1844–55; children: three.

Maria Chapman was a proper Bostonian and principal of the Young Ladies' High School until she married into a rogue family of abolitionists in 1830. Within two years, she was helping to found the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, editing its annual report Right and Wrong in Boston, and occasionally editing William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator. As Garrison's principal assistant, Maria was ostracized by Boston society and often physically threatened. The proper Mrs. Chapman, disregarding a Philadelphia mob, spoke before the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women at Philadelphia Hall. The hall was burned down the following day, along with the Shelter for Colored Orphans. Maria Chapman was a supporter of the Grimké sisters and wrote the biography of her good friend Harriet Martineau (1877).

Disappointed with both the limited liberalism of the Presbyterians and the smallness of the local Quaker assembly, Grimké began to recognize the overwhelming futility of conducting a solitary struggle against slavery in Charleston. By now she also wanted to become a Quaker and to play a useful part in securing personal freedom for black slaves. In April 1829, she wrote in her diary, "How long, oh Lord, wilt thou suffer the foot of the oppressor to stand on the neck of the slave!" Two years later, with the consent and blessing of her mother, she had accepted her sister's invitation to move to Philadelphia, where she could enter into the political fray, making her self-imposed exile a mark of protest against the Southern practice and institution of slavery.

In Philadelphia, Grimké underwent the evaluation process of approval for her member-ship in the Society of Friends, granted in March 1831. For a while, she continued the same kind of charitable work she had performed in Charleston. She visited the poor, led weekly prayer meetings for prison inmates, and established centers for private poor relief, but remained effectively isolated from political events. Within a couple of years, she was dissatisfied with her philanthropic work, despite its acceptability by the larger community as an appropriate extension of women's domestic role. Approached by Catharine Beecher who was seeking a teacher for the female seminary she had established in Hartford, Connecticut, Grimké was effectively discouraged by the Philadelphia Quaker assembly from taking the position; through this contact, however, she became friends with Catharine's younger sister, Harriet Beecher (Stowe) .

Grimké taught for a while at an infant school in Philadelphia but did not enjoy it. Meanwhile she was receiving the attentions of a young man named Edward Bettle, and her thoughts on how to respond were central to many of her diary entries during this period. In the early autumn of 1832, Bettle died in the cholera epidemic then sweeping through the eastern United States, and Grimké found herself shunned by Bettle's family, and her life irrevocably changed. Biographer Gerda Lerner says the youngest Grimké now joined "the army of disappointed spinsters, cut off from love and clutching at religion, trying to bury their unhappiness in uplifting work."

When the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed in Philadelphia in December 1833, Grimké's interest was still largely theoretical. In October 1834, the death of her older brother Thomas left the two sisters alone, unmarried, aged 30 and 43. "By the standards of their day," wrote Lerner, "their lives were over." By the end of 1834, Grimké had turned her life energies to abolitionism. Compared to the majority of Northern reformers, the concept of slavery for her was no abstraction. She began attending meetings and lectures held by abolitionists and established friendships with members of some of the black families who attended the Quaker meetings, especially Sarah Douglass . She also met the revivalist preacher-reformer Theodore Dwight Weld.

When Grimké became a member of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which was predominantly concerned with educational activities, she found a renewed focus to her life, but she lacked the wholehearted support of her sister Sarah. By 1835, Angelina was ready to declare her stance in favor of immediate abolition when she wrote a letter in support of fellow abolitionist and publisher William Lloyd Garrison who had recently had a narrow escape from an angry mob while speaking in Boston. Wrote Grimké:

If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the accomplishment of this great end, EMANCIPATION; then … I feel as if I could say, LET IT COME; for it is my deep, solemn, deliberate conviction, that this is a cause worth dying for.

Garrison was so struck by the clarity and sincerity of the letter that he published it, without securing her permission, in his weekly paper The Liberator. The publication was not well received by the Philadelphia Quaker assembly, which tended to avoid speaking out on the subject of slavery. Once past the initial shock, Grimké refused to retract or alter what she had written, and later that year the letter was reprinted as a one-page broadside, securing her position in the eyes of the public as an active abolitionist. In September 1835, when she was accused of being too absorbed in the topic of abolition, she reportedly replied: "If thou wert a slave, toiling in the fields of Carolina, I apprehend thou wouldst think the time had fully come." Her involvement also took the form of support for the Free Produce Movement, committed to buying only those items as had been produced without the labor of slaves, rather than following the more accepted practice of buying slaves in order to manumit them. In Grimké's view, this method still demonstrated acceptance of the enslavement of "a poor and friendless race."

While visiting a friend in New Jersey in 1836, Grimké was inspired to write an entreaty, entitled Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States, condemning slavery as a violation of human, natural, and Biblical laws, and calling on Southern women to work toward the abolition of the slave system. When copies of the Appeal reached Charleston, the Charleston postmaster had copies publicly burned, and the mayor declared that Angelina Grimké would not be permitted to enter the city, ending her tentative plans to visit her mother. Instead, she accepted a speaking engagement in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, for September, accompanied by her sister, and then the sisters went on to New York City to be trained by Theodore Weld in abolitionist oratory. Thus the two became among the first female antislavery agents in the United States.

Grimké was an abolitionist before she was a feminist, but she held that women had a right and a responsibility, as citizens, to speak on political issues like slavery. She saw no conflict between the fight for abolition and for women's rights: "Whatever it is morally right for a man to do, it is morally right for a woman to do. I recognize no rights but human rights. I know nothing of men's rights and women's rights. For in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female."

On the return of the sisters to Philadelphia, their behavior was found disturbing by the Quaker assembly. For one thing, they chose to sit on the side of the racially segregated meetinghouse designated for free blacks, and in May 1837 Angelina Grimké attended the Antislavery Convention of American Women, insisting that race prejudice had to be fought in both Northern and Southern states. In the Amesbury debate, 14 months later, she declared to two Southern men, who were not opposed to slavery, that she "had seen too much of slavery to be a gradualist."

In June 1837, Angelina and Sarah Grimké undertook an antislavery speaking tour of New England; Angelina was considered by most who heard them to be the better speaker of the two. Toward the end of the tour, they were exhausted; Sarah was ill with bronchitis, and both found themselves increasingly attacked, not so much for being abolitionists but for being women out of their appropriate place. The tour continued into October, with Grimké giving all the lectures until she also became ill, with typhoid fever. By this time, she was labeled a "notorious abolitionist," and there was no theory of guidance to help the two women cope with such hostility and accusation.

Prior to the speaking tour, Grimké had become a "devoted disciple" of Theodore Weld. Still in New York, while Angelina was ill in New Jersey and Massachusetts, Weld was deeply worried for her health. Eventually he wrote a letter, not meant to be shared with Sarah, confirming her hopes that his brotherly feelings had developed into more romantic ones, and also fretting that she would not consider him personally or spiritually worthy, especially since he was not a Quaker. After she wrote begging Weld to re-evaluate these perceptions, he visited her in Boston, and the two began to make plans to marry.

The wedding occurred in May, after Angelina Grimké's speech in February before the Legislative Committee of the Massachusetts Assembly. The offer had originally been made as a joke by Henry Stanton, but Angelina had accepted the opportunity and undertook it seriously, speaking on the subject of slavery and the slave trade:

I stand before you as a repentant slaveholder. I stand before you as a moral being, endowed with precious and inalienable rights, which are correlative with solemn duties and high responsibilities; and as a moral being feel that I owe it to the suffering slave, and to the deluded master, to my country and the world, to do all that I can to over-turn a system of complicated crimes, built upon the broken hearts and prostrate bodies of my countrymen in chains, and cemented by the blood and sweat and tears of my sisters in bonds.

Following the wedding, in mid-May 1838, with an interracial company of guests, both Grimké and her husband began to experience physical ailments that barred them from public speaking. The couple, along with Sarah, moved to a home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and Grimké began to assist Weld in the research for a book to indict and debunk the myth of the happy slave. American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses was published in 1839 and contained Angelina Grimké's own testimony and narrative based on her knowledge of slavery:

While I live, and slavery lives, I must testify against it. … And yet [when living in South Carolina] I saw nothing of slavery in its most vulgar and repulsive forms. I saw it in the city, among the fashionable and the honourable, where it was garnished by refinement, and decked out for show.

Douglass, Sarah Mapps (1806–1882)

African-American educator and abolitionist. Born Sarah Mapps Douglass in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1806; died in 1882; daughter of Robert and Grace (Bustill) Douglass; privately tutored; attended the "colored" school founded by her mother and James Forten; married William Douglass (a rector of St. Thomas Protestant Episcopal Church), on July 23, 1855 (died 1861).

Sarah Mapps Douglass was a leading light in the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society which was founded by her mother Grace Douglass in 1833. Sarah also taught in the Philadelphia area most of her life. Through the cause, she came to be lifelong friends with Angelina E. Grimké and Sarah Moore Grimké .

Speaking publicly, Angelina had always been clear that she did not, and could not, make any accurate comments on the practice of plantation slavery. This in no way diminished the impact of her statements.

The first son born to the marriage was Charles Stuart Weld, in 1839. After a move to Belleville, New Jersey, a second son, Theodore, was born. Grimké was a loving and affectionate mother, but not sentimental, and found child-rearing something of a trial, probably aggravated by her own experience as the youngest in a family where children were in the care of nurse-maid slaves. Through the 1840s, she experienced a number of health problems, as well as an increasing sense of failure as a mother, which coincided with her children's apparent preference for their Aunt Sarah.

Poor health kept Angelina from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England, in June 1840. In 1843, after a miscarriage which preyed upon her spirit, she began forming the opinion that women's health and well-being could best be protected through conscientious practice of birth control. Into the late 1840s, Grimké wrestled with a strong need to reclaim her family without hurting her sister's feelings, and Sarah moved away temporarily, but within a year had been asked by her sister to return to the Weld household.

By the early 1850s, Grimké had realized that she was not suited to "an existence limited to domestic duties and self-effacement." Her concern with the rights and status of women developed much later than did her interest in abolition, but, by 1850, she was elected, in absentia, to the central committee of the women's rights convention held in Worcester, Massachusetts. The following year, she managed to attend the next conference, in Rochester, New York, but had to participate in the 1852 Syracuse convention by letter. For a brief time, she also adopted the costume of pants made famous by Amelia Bloomer , but Angelina soon decided that it was inappropriate for her as a means of effecting re-form. She continued to link the abolition and women's rights causes well into the early 1860s, despite her husband's assertion that abolition was the more important issue of the two; this included attending the 1863 women's rights convention in New York.

Grimké—and her sister—had always been part of a minority among antislavery-minded reformers in their belief that abolition should be brought about without violence. By the 1850s, though, a sense of "righteous violence" began to seep into Grimké's abolitionism. This came largely as a response to the "legally sanctioned slave catchers," whom she saw operating within Northern communities.

Over the years, Grimké taught school to help keep the household financially intact. When the family moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, in the mid-1860s, she was hired at a girls' boarding school in nearby Lexington, where she taught modern history until the school closed in 1867. In this community, she lived a quiet life of household duties and neighborhood charities.

Grimké had retired from teaching when she learned that her brother Henry had fathered three sons with his slave Nancy Weston The discovery became "the acid test of the sisters' convictions." Weston's young sons—Frank, Archibald Henry, and Francis James—had been freed by then, by the Emancipation Proclamation, but Henry had made no provision for them in the event of his death, other than to have bequeathed them to his white, legitimate son to provide them with their full heritage as his children. The son did not honor his father's wishes and the biracial sons were sold into slavery. Ashamed of their family's racism, Angelina and Sarah felt it their responsibility to assist these nephews in completing their college educations and sought the necessary help through soliciting financial contributions from other abolitionists. In 1868, Angelina attended the commencement of her nephew Frank Grimké at Lincoln University; the second nephew, Archibald Henry Grimké, graduated in 1874 from Harvard Law School and practiced law in Boston, and the third, Francis James Grimké, attended Princeton Theological Seminary and became a Presbyterian pastor in Washington, D.C.

Beginning in the early 1870s, Angelina suffered a series of small strokes which left her partially paralyzed. Near the very end of her life, she lost the use of her voice, the symbol of her fame for decades. On October 26, 1879, Angelina Grimké died at age 74, in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Among the reformers who spoke at the funeral service were John H. Morison, abolitionist Elizur Wright, and feminist campaigner Lucy Stone, who succinctly addressed the impact of Angelina's life:

To those around her she seemed a quiet, gentle woman, devoted to her home, her husband, and her children. And such she was. But those whose memory goes back to the time of fiery trials, in the early anti-slavery days, know that the world never held a nobler woman. The slaves' cause was her cause. … She never stopped to think of her self.


Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. NY: The Free Press, 1989.

Lerner, Gerda. "The Grimké Sisters and the Struggle Against Race Prejudice," in Journal of Negro History. Vol. XLVIII, no. 4. October 1963, pp. 277–291.

——. The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin, 1967.

——. The Woman in American History. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1971.

Lumpkin, Katharine Du Pre. The Emancipation of Angelina Grimké. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.

suggested reading:

Barnes, Gilbert H., and Dwight L. Dumond, eds. Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Grimké, 1822–1844. 2 vols. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1965.

Birney, Catherine H. The Grimké Sisters. Sarah and Angelina Grimké: The First American Women Advocates of Abolition and Woman's Rights (1885). NY: Haskell House, 1970.

Dumond, Dwight L. Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961.

Filler, Louis. The Crusade Against Slavery, 1830–1860. NY: Harper, 1960.

Koch, Adrienne. "The Significance of the Grimké Family," in Maryland Historian. Vol. 3, no. 1. Spring 1972, pp. 59–84.

Welter, Barbara. "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820–1860," in American Quarterly. Vol. XVIII, 1966, pp. 151–174.

Donna Beaudin , freelance writer in history, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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