The Grimke Sisters
“Perhaps I am indebted partially to this for my life-long detestation of slavery, as it has brought me in close contact with these unpaid toilers.”
- Sarah Grimke
“To remain silent in the face of evil is itself a form of evil.”
- Angelina Grimke
Sarah and Angelina Grimke were born in 1792 and 1805 respectively and were well-known sisters during the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. Among 14 children, the two siblings had bonded over their shared abhorrence of slavery despite being born into a wealthy slaveholding family in South Carolina. They grew up in the Antebellum South where slavery was at its peak with cotton plantations scattered throughout the region. The two sisters seemed unlikely pioneers in the abolition movement given their slaveholding Southern roots. However, the Grimke children lived in a strict household and were sometimes required to work in the fields picking cotton themselves. This ultimately put them in close contact with the “unpaid toilers” on their plantation and fostered a greater sense of empathy among the two sisters. Sarah was only five years old the first time she saw a slave brutally whipped. She subsequently tried to run away to a place with no slaves. Later in life, both sisters became exposed to Quaker ideals of gender equality in Pennsylvania, and later converted and moved to Philadelphia. However, the two sisters eventually became disillusioned by the prejudice against blacks and lack of support for women speaking publicly within the Quaker community. They devoted their life to both the abolitionist and feminist movements during the 19th century. Both sisters became renowned lecturers for the abolitionist cause and had a significant following of women due to the fact that they were the only two women among the Theodor Weld’s band of 70 anti-slavery activists touring New England during the 1930s. The Grimke sisters offered a unique perspective from the South as former slave owners and some scholars estimate that over 40,000 people heard them speak during a time when women speakers were not welcomed in public. Angelina encouraged teaching slaves to read, freeing them, and also for people to listen to their conscience and speak out. They also contributed to the abolition movement through many writings. The two were elected officers at the first convention of antislavery women in 1837 in New York, while Angelina wrote “An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States”, and Sarah wrote the “Address to the Christian Women of the South” for the convention. The Grimke served as role models for many younger women suffragists such Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. Both also lived to see the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 that abolished slavery in the U.S.