Sarah Grimke

Sarah Grimke

Sarah Grimke, the daughter of slaveholding judge from Charleston, South Carolina, was born on 26th November, 1792. Sarah and her sister, Angelina Grimke, both developed an early dislike of slavery and after moving to Philadelphia in 1819, joined the Society of Friends.

In 1835 Angelina Grimke had a letter against slavery published by William Lloyd Garrison, in his newspaper, The Liberator . She followed this with the pamphlet, An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Sarah followed her example by publishing An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States. These pamphlets were publicly burned by officials in South Carolina and the sisters were warned that they would be arrested if they ever returned home.

The sisters moved to New York where they became the first women to lecture for the Anti-Slavery Society. This brought attacks from religious leaders who disapproved of women speaking in public. Sarah wrote bitterly that men were attempting to "drive women from almost every sphere of moral action" and called on women "to rise from that degradation and bondage to which the faculties of our minds have been prevented from expanding to their full growth and are sometimes wholly crushed."

Refusing to give up their campaign, the sisters now became pioneers in the struggle forwomen's rights. In her book Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1838), Grimke linked the rights of slaves to the rights of women. William Lloyd Garrison gave Grimke his support in this but Theodore Weld advised her not to "push your women's rights until human rights have gone ahead."

In 1838 Sara's sister, Angelina Grimke married Theodore Weld. Sarah moved with the couple to Belleville, New Jersey, where they opened their own school. Later they established a progressive school at the Raritan Bay Community in New York.

During the Civil War Sarah wrote and lectured in support of Abraham Lincoln. Sarah Grimke continued to work civil rights and woman's suffrage until her death on 23rd December, 1873.

Primary Sources

(1) Angelina Grimke, An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)

Search the Scriptures daily, whether the things I have told you are true. Other books and papers might be a great help to you in this investigation, but they are not necessary, and it is hardly probable that your Committees of Vigilance will allow you to have any other. The Bible then is the book I want you to read in the spirit of inquiry, and the spirit of prayer. Even the enemies of Abolitionists, acknowledge that their doctrines are drawn from it. In the great mob in Boston, last autumn, when the books and papers of the Anti-Slavery Society, were thrown out of the windows of their office, one individual laid hold of the Bible and was about tossing it out to the ground, when another reminded him that is was the Bible he had in his hand. "O! 'tis all one," he replied, and out went the sacred volume, along with the rest. We thank him for the acknowledgment. Yes, "it is all one," for our books and papers are mostly commentaries on the Bible, and the Declaration. Read the Bible then, it contains the words of Jesus, and they are spirit and life. Judge for yourselves whether he sanctioned such a system of oppression and crime.

(2) Angelina Grimke, An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)

It is through the tongue, the pen, and the press, that truth is principally propagated. Speak then to your relatives, your friends, your acquaintances on the subject of slavery; be not afraid if you are conscientiously convinced it is sinful, to say so openly, but calmly, and to let your sentiments be known. If you are served by the slaves of others, try to ameliorate their conditions as much as possible; never aggravate their faults, and thus add fuel to the fire of anger already kindled, in a master and mistress's bosom; remember their extreme ignorance, and consider them as your Heavenly Father does the less culpable on this account, even when they do wrong things. Discountenance all cruelty to them, all starvation, all corporal chastisement; these may brutalize and break their spirits, but will never bend them to willing, cheerful obedience. If possible, see that they are comfortably and seasonably fed, whether in the house or the field; it is unreasonable and cruel to expect slaves to wait for their breakfast until eleven o'clock, when they rise at five or six. Do all you can, to induce their owners to clothe them well, and then allow them many little indulgences which would contribute to their comfort. Above all, try to persuade your husband, father, brothers, and sons, that slavery is a crime against God and man, and that it is a great sin to keep human beings in such abject ignorance; to deny them the privilege of learning to read and write. The Catholics are universally condemned, for denying the Bible to the common people, but, slaveholders must not blame them, for they are doing the very same thing, and for the very same reason, neither of these systems can bear the light which bursts from the pages of that Holy Book. And lastly, endeavour to inculcate submission on the part of the slaves, but whilst doing this be faithful in pleading the cause of the oppressed.

(3) Angelina Grimke, An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)

Some of your own slaves yourselves. If you believe slavery is sinful, set them at liberty, "undo the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free." If they wish to remain with you, pay them wages, if not let them leave you. Should they remain teach them, and have them taught the common branches of an English education; they have minds and those minds ought to be improved. So precious a talent as intellect, never was given to be wrapt in a napkin and buried in the earth. It is the duly of all, as far as they can, to improve their own mental faculties, because we are commanded to love God with all our minds, as well as with all our hearts, and we commit a great sin, if we forbid or prevent that cultivation of the mind in others, which would enable them to perform this duty. Teach your servants then to read and encourage them to believe it is their duty to learn, if it were only that they might read the Bible.

(4) Angelina Grimke, An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)

The women of the South can overthrow this horrible system of oppression and cruelty, licentiousness and wrong. Such appeals to your legislatures would be irresistible, for there is something in the heart of man which will bend under moral pressure. There is a swift witness for truth in his bosom, which will respond to truth when it is uttered with calmness and dignity. If you could obtain but six signatures to such a petition in only one state, I would say, end up that petition, and be not in the least discouraged by the scoffs and jeers of the heartless, or the resolution of the house to lay it on the table. It will be a great thing if the subject can be introduced into your legislatures in any way, even by women, and they will be the most likely to introduce it there in the best possible manner, as a matter of morals and religion, not of expediency or politics. You may petition, too, the different ecclesiastical bodies of the slave states. Slavery must be attacked with the whole power of truth and the sword of the spirit. You must take it up on Christian ground; and fight against it with Christian weapons, whilst your feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Sisters in Christ, I have done. As a Southern, I have felt it was my duty to address you. I have endeavoured to set before you the exceeding sinfulness of slavery, and to point you to the example of those noble women who have been raised up in the church to effect great revolutions, and to suffer for the truth's sake. I have appealed to your sympathies as women, to your sense of duty as Christian woman. I have attempted to vindicate the Abolitionists, to prove the entire safety of immediate Emancipation, and to plead the cause of the poor and oppressed. Farewell. Count me not your "enemy because I have told you the truth," but believe me in unfeigned affection.