Sarah Moore Grimké

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Sarah Moore Grimké

Birthplace: South Carolina, United States
Death: December 23, 1873 (81)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Judge John Grimké and Mary Grimké
Sister of Dr. John Grimké; Thomas Smith Grimké; Benjamin Grimke; Mary Grimké; Frederick Grimke and 8 others

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About Sarah Moore Grimké

Sarah Moore Grimké (November 26, 1792 - December 23, 1873) was born in South Carolina, the daughter of John Faucheraud Grimké, a plantation owner who was also an attorney and a judge in South Carolina.

Without question, Sarah’s early experiences with education shaped her future as an abolitionist and suffragist. Throughout her childhood, she was keenly aware of the inferiority of her own education when compared to her brothers’ Classical one, and despite the fact that all around her recognized her remarkable intelligence and abilities as an orator, she was prevented from substantive education or from pursuing her dream of becoming an attorney.

Perhaps because she felt so confined herself, Sarah expressed a sense of connection with the slaves to such an extent that her parents were unsettled. From the time she was twelve years old, Sarah spent her Sunday afternoons teaching Bible classes to the young slaves on the plantation, and she found it an extremely frustrating experience. While she wanted desperately to teach them to read the scripture for themselves, and they had a longing for such learning, she was refused. Her parents claimed that literacy would only make the slaves unhappy and rebellious; they also suggested that mental exertion would make them unfit for physical labor. And then, of course, teaching slaves to read was against the law. After all, as early as 1740, teaching slaves to read was a serious offense in South Carolina.

She secretly taught her personal slave to read and write, but when her parents discovered the young tutor at work, the vehemence of her father’s response proved alarming. He was furious and nearly had the young slave girl whipped. Fear of causing such trouble for the slaves themselves prevented Sarah from undertaking such a task again.

When her brother Thomas went off to law school at Yale, Sarah remained at home. Her father remarked that if Sarah had only been a boy, "she would have made the greatest jurist in the country" (Lerner, p. 25). Not only did the denial of education seem unfair, Sarah was further perplexed that while her parents and others within the community encouraged slaves to be baptized and to attend worship services, these believers were not viewed as true brothers and sisters in faith.

From her youth, Sarah determined that religion should take a more proactive role in improving the lives of those who suffered most; this was one of the key reasons she later joined the Quaker community where she became an outspoken advocate for education and suffrage for African-Americans and women.

In 1821, after her father had died, Sarah Grimké moved to Philadelphia, a place where she had earlier become acquainted with The Society of Friends Quakers, there choosing to leave her Episcopalian upbringing behind, she became a Quaker. She returned to Charleston, South Carolina a few years later and convinced her sister, Angelina Grimké, to convert to the Quaker faith. Angelina joined her sister in Philadelphia in 1829.

These South Carolinian women, daughters of slave owning plantation owners, had come to loathe slavery and all its degradations that they knew intimately. They hoped that their new faith would be more accepting of their abolitionist beliefs than had been their former. However, their initial attempts to attack slavery caused them difficulties in the Quaker community. Nevertheless, the sisters persisted despite the additional complication caused by the belief that the fight for women's rights was as important as the fight to abolish slavery. They continued to be attacked, even by some abolitionists who considered their position too extreme. In 1836, Sarah published Epistle to the clergy of the southern states. In 1837, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women was published serially in a Massachusetts newspaper, The Spectator, and immediately reprinted in The Liberator, the newspaper published by radical abolitionist and women's rights leader William Lloyd Garrison. The letters were published in book form in 1838.

Sarah Grimke's role as both an able and vocal advocate of immediate emancipation and of women's rights were hugely controversial - not only in the South -but in the North also. It could easily be underestimated by people living at a different time in history how riled up New Englanders of the first half of the 19th Century could become over the issue of public speaking by women. These sisters were the first women agents of the abolitionist movement; and many believe that they were also the first women to speak in public to large crowds. Even more shocking, they were the first women to speak publicly to mixed audiences of both women and, horror, men. These southern bred women had to be intrepid as they publicly pronounced novel arguments to crowds, not all of whom were admirers.

In 1838, her sister Angelina married the leading abolitionist Theodore Weld. She retired to the background of the movement while being a wife and mother. Sarah Grimké too continued to work for the abolitionist movement in a less public role.

During the Civil War, Sarah wrote and lectured in support of President Abraham Lincoln.

Grimke, Sarah Moore (Nov 26, 1792 - ?):

Sarah Grimke

Charleston, S. Carolina

Brick Section D - Row 14

Sarah and Angelina Grimke--Pioneers for Abolition of Slavery and for Women's Rights.

Sarah Grimke (1792-1873) and her younger sister, Angelina (1805-1879) were born and raised as wealthy Southern aristocrats. Their father, Judge John Grimke, was part of the ruling elite of South Carolina and their mother, Mary Smith Grimke, was also from one of the wealthy, old families of the South. With this background, it is astonishing that they would overcome their training to be genteel young ladies and not only reject slavery, but go

against family and community in speaking out against it. In so doing, they would raise the issue of the proper role of women in American culture and become two of the first women to articulate the cause of the rights of women to equal status with men. They would also call down a storm of protest at their "improper behavior", being vilified by clergy in particular, and being forbidden to return to Charleston by the officials of that city.

In becoming the first white female abolitionist speakers, they traveled

extensively in New England, speaking to women's church groups originally, and then to mixed groups as well. They are credited with not only raising awareness of the evils of slavery, but with opposing racist policies in the North. Angelina became the first woman to address a legislative body when, in 1838, she spoke to the Massachusetts State Legislature on the subject of abolition, where she presented petitions of 20,000 signatures of women supporting that cause.

She wrote Letters to Catherine Beecher, which appeared in The Emancipator

and The Liberator, in which she argued with Beecher's statement that women should remain behind the scenes in matters of public policy. Sarah Grimke wrote Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, in which she attacked the Biblical argument that women's inferior status was God-given, holding that the Scriptures had necessarily reflected the patriarchal society which had produced them. She claimed that women had been created by God to be equal companions of men, and issued these ringing phrases: " I ask no favors for my

sex ... All I ask our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed for to occupy."

They would be followed some ten years later by Elizabeth Cady Stanton's famous paraphrasing of the Declaration of Independence at the Seneca Fall's convention in 1848, the first official gathering of women's rights advocates. Most people have heard of Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and even Carrie Chapman Catt. Many have not known of these two

brave foremothers, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Their story is wonderfully told in Dr. Gerda Lerner's “The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman's Rights and Abolition,” which should be a must reading for all of us who wish to honor those who have made the present day rights of women and blacks possible.

Submitted by:

Joan Dee Brockman Rottler, Class of 1965

Religious Studies Instructor, ISU. 4/22/94


Born of a wealthy slave-holding family of the Charleston South Carolina elite, she and her sister became Quakers, strong abolitions. From their commitment to speak out publically against slavery, contrary customs against women speaking in public, they also became women's rights heroines.

Sarah was strongly attracted to intellectual pursuits from her youth, and got some encouragement from her brother Thomas and a bit less from her father. She kept trying to learn whatever Thomas was learning and participate in political debates in the family. It seems as if the social barriers that she kept straining against gave her much of her empathy for slaves, and inability to accept their role, just as she could not accept her own.

As a teenager she tried to teach the slave who was supposed to wait on her to read, an illegal act at the time, for which she was severely reprimanded.

When she was 13, and Angelina was born, she threw herself into the care of this new child, and even pursuaded her parents to let her be her sister's godmother.

In 1819, when her father was fatally ill, the 27 year old woman, now seen as a "spinster", accompanied her father to a seaside resort in New Jersey, and cared for him for the several months before he died.

In 1821, much impressed by the anti-slavery writings of John Wollman, Sarah, with enough to live on from her inheritance, joined the Society of Friends (Quakers), and later that year moved to Philadelphia.

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Sarah Moore Grimké's Timeline

November 26, 1792
South Carolina, United States
December 23, 1873
Age 81