Sarah Moore and Angelina Emily Grimké

Sarah Moore (1792-1873) and Angelina Emily (1805-1879) Grimké were antislavery leaders and early agitators for woman's rights.

Sarah Grimké was born on Nov. 29, 1792, and Angelina Grimké was born on Feb. 20, 1805; their father was a distinguished South Carolina jurist. Partly through the influence of their older brother Thomas, who was prominent in temperance and pacifist reforms, and partly from their own religious beliefs, the sisters early opposed slavery, although the family owned several slaves.

On a trip to Philadelphia in 1819 Sarah was converted to Quakerism and later so was Angelina Grimké. They settled in Philadelphia in the 1820s. The Quakers' passivity failed to satisfy energetic Angelina. After reading William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator, she wrote to him and then wrote a pamphlet, which the abolitionist press eagerly published. Her An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836) urged her Southern sisters to "overthrow this horrible system of oppression and cruelty, licentiousness and wrong." That this was written by a Southern woman made it unusually valuable to the antislavery cause and aroused such disapproval in South Carolina that authorities threatened to prosecute Angelina if she returned.

Sarah Grimké, shyer than her sister, wrote An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States (1836), urging churches to oppose slavery on religious grounds. The sisters freed the slaves they had inherited and offered their services to the Northern abolitionists. "As I left my native state, " wrote Angelina, "to escape the sound of the driver's lash and the shrieks of tortured victims, I would gladly bury in oblivion the recollections of those scenes. But it may not, it cannot be."

The Grimké sisters were highly effective in speaking to and organizing women. The American Antislavery Society appointed them lecturers (after much discussion of the propriety of sponsoring women to speak in public), and in 1836-1837 "Carolina's high-souled daughters, " as John Greenleaf Whittier named them, toured New York and New England. The prevailing prejudice against women appearing publicly before "promiscuous assemblies, " however, led to many objections and brought up the question of women's rights. Sarah's Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1838) and Angelina's Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States (1837) firmly linked the rights of slaves to the rights of women and helped introduce the divisive "woman question" into the abolitionist movement. Garrison urged them to continue speaking. But Theodore Weld counseled Angelina not to "push your women's rights until human rights have gone ahead."

After Weld and Angelina Grimké were married on May 14, 1838 (they had one son, Charles Stuart), the sisters spent most of their time assisting Weld with his writing and his political work in Washington. When Weld, in poor health, retired from the abolitionist movement in 1843, Sarah accompanied the couple to New York and later helped conduct Weld's interracial school in New Jersey. Sarah died on Dec. 23, 1873, and Angelina on Oct. 26, 1879.


Further Reading on Sarah Moore and Angelina Emily Grimké

Catherine H. Birney, The Grimké Sisters:Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the First American Advocates of Abolition and Women's Rights (1885), adulatory and old-fashioned, is still useful. The best modern study is Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina:Rebels against Slavery (1967). Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond, eds., The Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké and Sarah Grimké (2 vols., 1934), remains the major source of biographical information.