Sarah Moore Grimké, 1792 – 1873
Sarah Moore Grimké was born in Charleston, South Carolina November 26, 1792, to a wealthy and influential family, one of fourteen children. From an early age she railed against the strictures imposed upon the girls of the family, particularly the lack of a comprehensive education. While her brothers learned mathematics, sciences and languages, she and her sisters were forced to content themselves with learning needlework, and a little music, and were expected to prepare themselves only for marriage.
Sarah and her younger sister Angelina also felt keenly the injustices of slavery and the suffering slaves were forced to endure. As a child, Sarah tried to teach her family’s slaves to read and write, but was rebuked by her father for breaking a 1740 law against educating blacks. These experiences led both girls to become abolitionists at an early age, which became a shocking and direct rebuke to their slave-owning family. A visit to Philadelphia introduced Sarah to the Society of Friends (Quakers), and much taken by their views against slavery, she decided to join them. Several years later her sister Angelina joined her there as well.
But although the Quakers were abolitionists, they practiced segregation, requiring blacks to sit in the back of the meeting houses. When they were rebuked for speaking out against such practices, the Grimké sisters turned their efforts to fighting for equal rights for women, firm in their belief that only through the ability to speak out could women ever know freedom and independence. In time, even the Quakers expelled them because Angelina married a non-Quaker and Sarah attended the ceremony.
The two then became active speakers against slavery and in favor of women’s rights, writing and traveling extensively. Angelina spoke before the Massachusetts Legislature, making her the first woman in American history to speak in front of a legislative body. By the time Sarah died in 1873, and Angelina in 1879 the tide had turned, and they were praised as pioneers in the fight against slavery, and for women’s rights.
The lives of these remarkable Grimké sisters is the subject of a wonderful book published last year, written by Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings. Although fiction, it is an accurate and beautifully written account of their remarkable fight for freedom and equality.