Angelina Grimké and her older sister Sarah Moore Grimké were born to a slaveholding family in America's South. They became Quakers, and then became antislavery and women's rights speakers and activists - in fact, they were the only white Southern women known to be part of the abolitionist movement.
Grimké's family was prominent in Charleston, South Carolina, society, and were major slaveholders. Angelina was the youngest of fourteen siblings and was always closest with her older sister, Sarah, who was thirteen years older than her. As a teenager, she began her first anti-slavery activities by teaching her family's slaves about religion. Her faith became a major part of the foundation of her abolitionist views, believing that slavery was an un-Christian and immoral institution, although other Christians of her time had found Bible verses and interpretations that they could claim supported slavery.
Because of the way that her fellow Presbyterian endorsed slavery, Grimké's abolitionist beliefs were not welcomed, and she was expelled from the church in 1829. She became a Quaker instead, and realizing that she would never be able to change the beliefs of Southern slaveowners, she and Sarah moved to Philadelphia.
Even the Quakers' slow reform proved too gradual for Angelina, and she became involved in the radical abolition movement. Among her most famous published letters was "An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South," published in 1836 to try to persuade Southern women of the evils of slavery. She and her sister Sarah both became abolitionist speakers throughout New England, sparking new discussions (and controversies) about women's rights as well as abolition.
In February 1838, Angelina addressed the Massachusetts State Legislature, defending the abolition movement and women's rights to petition and becoming the first American woman to address a legislative assembly. Her lectures drew some criticism, as she pointed out that passive complicity, not just active slave-owning, propped up the institution of slavery, but she was generally respected for her eloquence and persuasiveness. Even after Grimké's health declined in later years, she still corresponded with activist friends and continued her activities on a smaller, more personal scale.
Selected Angelina Grimké Quotations
- "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. It is my solemn conviction that, until this principal of equality is recognized and embodied in practice, the church can do nothing effectual for the permanent reformation of the world."
- "Women ought to feel a particular sympathy in the colored man's wrong, for, like him, she has been accused of mental inferiority, and denied the privileges of a liberal education."
- "… thou art blind to the danger of marrying a woman who feels and acts out the principle of equal rights… "
- "Hitherto, instead of being a help meet to man, in the highest, noblest sense of the term, as a companion, a co-worker, an equal; she has been a mere appendage of his being, an instrument of his convenience and pleasure, the pretty toy with which he whiled away his leisure moments, or the pet animal whom he humored into playfulness and submission."
- "Abolitionists never sought place or power. All they asked was freedom; all they wanted was that the white man should take his foot off the negro's neck."
- "Slavery always has, and always will, produce insurrections wherever it exists, because it is a violation of the natural order of things."
- "My friends, it is a fact that the South has incorporated slavery into her religion; that is the most fearful thing in this rebellion. They are fighting, verily believing that they are doing God service."
- "I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters, of those who do."
- "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, Angelina (1836). "An Appeal to Christian Women of the South." //utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/abesaegat.html
Grimké, Angelina (1837). "Letter to Catharine Beecher". Quoted in American Political Thought: New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.
Grimké, Sarah Moore (1838). Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman: Addressed to Mary S. Parker. Archive.org.
Weld, Theodore Dwight, Grimké, Angelina, & Sarah Grimké (1839). American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. //docsouth.unc.edu/neh/weld/weld.html