The Grimke Sisters: Sarah and Angelina Grimke
"I recognize no rights but human rights—I know nothing of men’s rights and women’s rights…men and women were created equal. They are both moral and accountable beings, and whatever is right for man to do, is right for woman."1 – The Grimke Sisters: Sarah and Angelina Grimke – civil rights advocates
Sarah and Angelina Grimke were sisters born and raised in a slave-holding family in Charleston, South Carolina. Despite the sisters being raised in a historically wealthy and powerful family, with which owning slaves was a part of the sister’s upbringing since birth, the sisters felt slavery was a grave injustice. The Grimke sisters were unlike many fellow abolitionists in that they encountered the horrors of slavery firsthand, within their own home. Regardless of the beliefs they were raised to believe about slavery, the sisters left their lives in the South to Pennsylvania, where they joined the abolitionist movement in denouncing slavery, which resulted in the sisters being the first southerners to write explicitly to southerners about antislavery.
In 1819 both Angelina and Sarah Grimke moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Encountering the Quaker religion and the teachings that all people were equal, the sisters were inspired by the antislavery philosophies, as well as the opportunities women were allowed within the church. Soon the sisters’ support for the anti-slavery cause was heightened with the publication of Angelina’s letter to an abolitionist newspaper, where she declared that the fight against slavery was worth dying for. Suddenly the sisters had a large audience and opportunity to have their voices heard.
The Grimke sisters toured the Northeast, visiting sixty-seven cities to speak for the abolition movement. At this time in history, it was extremely uncommon for women to present lectures aimed for audiences comprised of both men and women. The sisters were not only speaking-out against the impassioned topics of slavery, but doing so as women in a public forum, which also brought about heated debates. The experiences the sisters experienced when touring brought about the awareness and the ensuing talks about how both women and slaves were denied secondary educations, the right to vote, and overall treated as secondary citizens. Both sisters were hugely influential in fighting for the rights of both African-American and women, and continued to campaign for equality until their deaths.
Letter III, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman (Boston, 1838 ).