Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Angelina Grimke, born February 26, 1805

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

By 1818, as Sarah turned twenty-six and Angelina entered her teens, their father had become deathly ill.  Sarah was sent alone to accompany her father to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in search of a cure. In June 1919, the two left Philadelphia for the Atlantic coast in hopes that the sea air would do the ailing man some good. But it was too late — Judge Grimké died in Bordentown, New Jersey, by his daughter's side.  During the months that Judge Grimké hovered between life and death, he leaned on Sarah heavily and drew upon her strength. The two grew so close that they "became fast friends indeed" and Sarah regarded this "as the greatest blessing ... that I have ever received from God" . She was also on her own for the first time in the big city of Philadelphia, and the trip was a major turning point in Sarah's life. It opened her eyes to life in the North, outside of slavery. It also introduced her to the Quaker religion.  Upon her return, Sarah found the South unbearable. Having spent nearly a year in the North, she realized she could no longer live in the presence of slavery, even if it meant she had to move away from her family. "After being gone for many months in Pennsylvania," she wrote, "when I went back it seemed as if the sight of [the slaves'] condition was insupportable, it burst my mind with new horror". Within a month of her return and against her mother's wishes, Sarah packed her bags and moved permanently to Philadelphia, joining the Quaker Society of Friends.
Angelina converted to the Presbyterian faith in April 1826, aged 21.  She was an active member of the Presbyterian church. A proponent of biblical study and interfaith education, she taught a Sabbath school class and also provided religious services to her family’s slaves—a practice her mother originally frowned upon, but later participated in. Grimké became a close friend of the pastor of her church, Rev. William McDowell. McDowell was a northerner who had previously been the pastor of a Presbyterian church in New Jersey. Grimké and McDowell were both very opposed to the institution of slavery on the grounds that it was a morally deficient system that violated Christian law and human rights. McDowell advocated patience and prayer over direct action against the system, which was unsatisfactory to the radical young Grimké.

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 Grimke
 In 1829, Grimké moved to Philadelphia to join her sister Sarah and together they attended  the Orthodox Meeting of the Philadelphia chapter of the Religious Society of FriendsFor a time, Angelina lived with her widowed sister, Anna Grimke Frost. Grimké was struck by the lack of options for widowed women – during this period they were mostly limited to remarriage or joining the working world – and realized the importance of education for women.  Over time, Grimké became frustrated by the Quaker community’s slow and passive response to the contemporary debate on slavery. She exposed herself to more extreme abolitionist literature, such as the periodicals The Emancipator and William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator (in which she would later be published). 
William Lloyd Garrison's "The Liberator"

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
In 1836, Grimké wrote her famous An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, which is often considered by scholars one of the best manifestations of Grimké’s sociopolitical agenda. Her letter to Garrison and Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, which was published by the American Anti-Slavery Society, led to Angelina being invited by the Society to come to New York City to be trained as an anti-slavery lecturer, or "agent." She and Sarah attended the training, the only women to do so, in the fall of 1836. There she met one of the leading trainers, Theodore Dwight Weld.

After lecturing in the New York City region, and nearby New Jersey, to increasingly large crowds, the the sisters were invited by the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society to give a series of talks around Massachusetts. First, however, the sisters and other leading women abolitionists from Boston and New York and Philadelphia organized the first anti-slavery convention of American women, held in New York City in May 1837.  The sisters spent the summer doing the lecture and grassroots organizing tour in Massachusetts, and stirring up both great support and opposition for a petition campaign among women to urge Congress, via state legislatures, to end slavery in the District of Columbia. Audiences of several thousands came to hear the sister speak.

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.
Theodore Weld
Grimké first met Theodore Weld in October 1836, at the agent training convention. She was greatly impressed with Weld’s speeches and wrote in a letter to a friend that Weld was “a man raised up by God and wonderfully qualified to plead the cause of the oppressed.” In the two years before they married, Weld encouraged Grimké’s activism, arranged for many of her lectures and the publication of her writings. They confessed their love for each other in letters in February 1838. They married 14 May 1838 in Philadelphia.

She and Theodore were married in a very simple ceremony, with Theodore renouncing all claims to Angelina's property and Angelina omitting the line "to obey" from her wedding vows. Both black and white Americans attended the ceremony, including William Lloyd Garrison and black schoolteacher and abolitionist Sarah Mapps Douglass. 
The Philadelphia Society of Friends officially expelled Angelina for marrying a non-Quaker and Sarah for attending the wedding.
Within the next two years, Theodore, Angelina, and Sarah all moved to a farm in New Jersey. The sisters were determined to pay "scrupulous attention to domestic duties" and show that active women could be good mothers and efficient housekeepers without the help of slaves. After 1839, the sisters concentrated on raising Angelina's children and tending their farm and home. Sarah and Angelina tried to stay as active as they had been in civil rights causes before the marriage, but Angelina's ill health prevented it. The tour and subsequent bearing of children had severely weakened her. So instead of touring and lecturing, the sisters wrote articles and speeches for others to recite at antislavery and women's rights conventions. They also took as boarders a great many abolitionists who toured the East Coast, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband, Henry.  They operated a school in their home, and later at a boarding school at Raritan Bay Union, a utopian community. At the school, they taught the children of other noted abolitionists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Before the Civil War, the sisters discovered that their late brother Henry W. Grimké (1801-1852) had had a relationship with Nancy Weston, an enslaved mixed-race woman, after he became a widower. They lived together and had three mixed-race sons: Archibald, Francis and John (who was born a couple of months after their father died). The sisters arranged for the oldest two to come north for education and helped support their nephews: Archibald and Francis J. Grimke.  In the years after the Civil War, they raised funds to pay for the graduate education of their two nephews . The sisters paid for Archibald and Francis to attend Harvard Law School and Princeton Theological Seminary, respectively. Archibald became a lawyer and later an ambassador to Haiti and Francis became a Presbyterian minister. Both became leading civil rights activists. Archibald's daughter, Angelina Weld Grimke, became a poet and author.
After the war the sisters and Theodore relocated to Hyde Park, a part of Boston, where they opened a coeducational school and continued to fight for minority rights. On March 7, 1870, when Sarah was seventy-nine and Angelina sixty-six, the sisters boldly declared a woman's right to vote under the fourteenth Amendment by depositing ballots in the local election. Along with forty-two women, Sarah and Angelina Marched in procession in a driving snowstorm to the polling place. They were jeered by many onlookers but, because of their age, were not arrested. 
Three years later, on December 23, 1873, Sarah died. Angelina suffered several strokes after Sarah's death, which left her paralyzed for the last six years of her life. She died on October 26, 1879, at the age of 74.  Theodore survived his wife by six years and died in 1885.

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