Angelina Grimké Weld, 1805 – 1879
Angelina Grimké Weld was born in Charleston, South Carolina, February 20, 1805, the fourteenth and youngest child of the wealthy and influential Grimké family. Her father John was a well-known jurist; her mother Mary Smith managed her large family and numerous slaves with an iron fist, but by the time Angelina was born her exhausted mother gladly gave her over to the care of her older sister, Sarah, whose position as Angelina’s godmother fostered in both girls an especially close relationship.
From an early age Sarah railed against the strictures imposed upon the daughters of the family, particularly the lack of a comprehensive education. As a child, she 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 was a shocking and direct rebuke to their slave-owning family. A visit to Philadelphia in 1821 introduced Sarah to the Society of Friends (Quakers), and much taken by their views against slavery, she decided to join them. In 1829 Angelina left the family in Charleston and joined her.
But although the sisters shared a hatred for slavery they approached it in very different ways. Sarah was more reticent; she cared for the opinion of others. Angelina’s youth made her more daring; she cared little what others thought of her and began writing and publishing pamphlets against slavery. In 1835 she wrote to William Lloyd Garrison who published her letter in his newspaper, The Liberator, and her career as a teacher and public speaker was born. In 1836 her Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States was an attempt to convince former friends and residents of the South of the “exceeding sinfulness of slavery,” but only resulted in both sisters being told they would never be welcome in Charleston again.
Although the Quakers were abolitionists, they practiced segregation, requiring African-Americans to sit in the back of the meeting house. 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 1838 Angelina married fellow abolitionist Theodore Weld, thus causing both sisters to be expelled from the Quaker meeting. That same year Angelina became the first woman to speak before the Massachusetts Legislature, bringing a petition signed by 20,000 women voicing their opposition to slavery. Both sisters were advocates of suffrage, serving as vice-presidents of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Society and were close friends with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her family.
Despite being born into a life of wealth and luxury, Angelina Grimké Weld could not escape her abhorrence for slavery. She courageously left that life and risked the dangers of public censor to follow her beliefs. It wasn’t until after she died in 1879 that the tide of public opinion turned, and they were praised as pioneers in the fight against slavery, and for women’s rights.
Happy Birthday, Angelina Grimké Weld!
The lives of these remarkable Grimké sisters is the subject of a book written by Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings. Although fiction, it is an accurate and beautifully written account of their remarkable battles for freedom and equality for all.
For more information on Sarah Grimké see Suffragist of the Month, November 2014