Angelina Emily Grimké was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to John Faucheraud Grimké, a wealthy Episcopalian lawyer, judge, planter, politician, slaveholder, Revolutionary War veteran and distinguished member of Charleston society. In 1784 he married Mary Smith, a descendant of Landgrave Thomas Smith, another family from the Charleston elite. Together they had a total of fourteen children, of whom Angelina Grimké was the youngest. Both Mary and John Grimké were strong advocates of the traditional, upper class Southern values that permeated Charleston society. Mary would not permit the girls to socialize outside of the prescribed elite social circles, and John remained a slaveholder his entire life.
Nicknamed “Nina,” young Angelina Grimké was very close to her older sister Sarah Moore Grimké, who, at age thirteen, persuaded her parents to allow her to be Angelina’s godmother. They consented, and the two sisters maintained an intimate relationship throughout their lives, living together for most of that time, although with several short periods of separation. Even as a child, Grimké was described in family letters and diaries as the most self-righteous, curious and self-assured of all her siblings. In the biography,
When the time came for her confirmation in the Episcopalian Church at age thirteen, Angelina refused to recite the required pledge. Always an inquisitive and rebellious young woman, she concluded that she could not agree with the pledge, and would not participate in the confirmation ceremony.
Angelina was 56 years old when the Civil War began; she was living with her husband, children, and sister, Sarah, in New Jersey. During the Civil War, the sisters wrote articles supporting the Union. In March 1863, they penned "An Appeal to the Women of the Republic," which urged women to rally to the cause of the Union and hold a convention to support the war effort.
|Charleston, North Carolina|
In 1829, she addressed the issue at a meeting in her church and stated that all slaveholding members of her congregation should openly condemn the practice. Because she was such an active member of the church community, her audience respectfully declined her proposal. This incident led to Grimké’s loss of faith in the values of the Presbyterian church. With her sister Sarah’s support, Grimké adopted the tenets of the Quaker faith. The Quaker community was very small in Charleston, and Grimké quickly set out to reform her friends and family. However, given Grimké’s self-righteous nature, her condescending comments about their wasteful and flashy behavior served merely to offend those around her. Grimké’s behavior even led to her official expulsion from the Presbyterian church in 1829. Afterwards, Grimké became convinced that the South was not the proper place for her or her work, and so she relocated to Philadelphia.
Sarah and the traditional Quakers disapproved of Grimké’s new-found interest in radical abolitionism, but Grimké became steadily more involved in the movement. She began to attend anti-slavery meetings and lectures, and joined the newly organized Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1835. In the fall of 1835, mob violence erupted over the controversial abolitionist George Thompson. William Lloyd Garrison wrote an article in The Liberator in the hopes of calming the rioting masses. Grimké had been steadily influenced by Garrison’s work, and this article inspired her to write him a personal letter on the subject. The letter stated her concerns and opinions on the issues of abolitionism and mob violence, as well as her personal admiration for Garrison and the values he symbolized. Garrison was so impressed with Grimké’s letter that he published it in the next issue of "The Liberator" without her consent. Garrison also praised her for her passion, expressive writing style and noble ideas. The letter put Grimké in great standing among many abolitionists, but its publication offended and stirred controversy within Orthodox Quaker meeting, which openly condemned such radical activism. Sarah Grimké even asked her sister to withdraw the letter, concerned that such publicity would alienate her from the community. Grimké, though initially embarrassed by the letter’s publication, refused, and the letter was later reprinted in the New York Evangelist, other abolitionist papers and was also included in a pamphlet with Garrison’s noteworthy Appeal to the Citizens of Boston.
|Appeal to the Christian |
Women of the South
Grimké’s lectures were critical of Southern slaveholders, but she also argued that Northerners tacitly complied with the status quo by purchasing slave-made products and exploiting slaves through the commercial and economic exchanges they made with slaveowners in the South. Though the Grimké sisters were strongly supported by some male abolitionists such as Weld and Garrison, they were met with a considerable amount of opposition – both because they were female and because they were abolitionists.
In 1831, Grimké was courted by Edward Bettle, the son of Samuel and Jane Bettrimké. Diaries show that Bettle intended to marry Grimké, though he never actually proposed. Sarah supported the match. However, in the summer of 1832, a large cholera epidemic broke out in Philadelphia. Grimké agreed to take in Bettle’s cousin Elizabeth Walton, who, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, was dying of the disease. Bettle, who regularly visited his cousin, contracted the disease and died from it shortly thereafter. Grimké was heartbroken and directed all of her energy into her activism.