Happy Women’s History Month! Day 3.
The Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelica, were born into a slave owning family in South Carolina. Sarah devoured books of every subject. She wanted to become a lawyer like her father (a South Carolina judge who supported slavery and the subordination of women). He told Sarah that if she had been a man, she “would have been the greatest lawyer in South Carolina.”
How Sarah did not accept or embrace slavery or “her place in life” due to family and culture, is remarkable. In violation of the law, she secretly taught her personal slave to read.
At age 26, when Sarah was traveling with her ill father, she encountered the Quakers. She was immediately taken with their *radical views on slavery and gender. She returned home and began influencing Angelica.
Sarah and Angelica moved to Philadelphia and became Quakers in 1829. But when Sarah spoke out against slavery in public, she was rebuked by the Quakers (having not secured prior approval to speak.) She and Angelica had two choices: recant their words to stay in good standing with the Quakers or work harder to oppose slavery. They chose the latter.
It is of note, that it was their religious convictions and experiences that gave them such extensive oration skills. All of their lives, both were very religious and spiritual women, even when denounced by not only the Quakers but the Congregationalists.
The sisters began speaking in all-women’s meetings, and later to mixed-gender gatherings which garnered criticism from the press.
When a group of ministers wrote a letter citing the Bible and reprimanding the sisters for stepping out of the “woman’s proper sphere,” Sarah wrote an “Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States” (1836). The sisters were not looking to become ardent feminists, but realized that without power, they could not address societal wrongs.
Both sisters continued to speak and write for the freedom of both women and slaves, and when they spoke in Boston, thousands flocked to hear them.
Perhaps my favorite Sarah quote (which Ruth Bader Ginsburg would later use in her landmark argument for equal rights):
Times were changing! And I believe the 1800s were a time when both men and women were feeling the heavens open. Women were realizing and accessing their connection to the divine and their authority to speak of it.
Not un-coincidentally, in the late spring of 1820, a young boy went into the woods to pray – forever changing how millions would view and understand our communication with God.
Ten years later, in 1830, a new religion would burst onto the scene – and women were going to play a major role. Their faith would put them literally at the pulpit, and also empower them politically.
Enjoy this? Please share! More incredible women coming your way!
*faiths often deemed as radical: Quakers, Methodists, Shakers, Freewill Baptists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.