Angelina Grimké

Anti-Slavery Activist

Angelina Grimke, circa 1820s
Angelina Grimke, circa 1820s. Fotosearch / Getty Images

Angelina Grimké Facts

Known for: Sarah and Angelina Grimké were two sisters, originally from a South Carolina slaveholding family, who spoke out on abolition of slavery. The sisters became advocates of women's rights when their anti-slavery efforts were criticized because their outspokenness violated traditional gender roles. Angelina Grimké was the younger of the two sisters. See also Sarah Grimké

Occupation: reformer

Dates: February 20, 1805 - October 26, 1879

Also known as: Angelina Emily Grimké, Angelina Grimké Weld

Angelina Grimké Biography

Angelina Emily Grimké was born on February 20, 1805. She was the fourteenth and last child of Mary Smith Grimké and John Faucheraud Grimké. Three of their children died in infancy. Mary Smith Grimké's wealthy South Carolina family included two governors during colonial times. John Grimké, descended from German and Huguenot settlers, had been a Continental Army captain during the Revolutionary War. He served in the state House of Representatives and as the state's chief justice.

The family spent their summers in Charleston and the rest of the year on the Beuafort plantation. The Grimké plantation produced rice until the invention of the cotton gin made that crop more profitable. The family owned many slaves, including field hands and household servants.

Sarah, the sixth of the 14 children, had been taught the usual subjects for girls, including reading and embroidery. she also studied with her brothers. When her older brother Thomas went to Harvard, Sarah realized that she could not hope for an equal educational opportunity.

The year after Thomas left, Angelina was born. Sarah convinced her parents to let her be Angelina's godmother. Sarah became like a second mother to her little sister.

Angelina, like her sister, was offended by slavery from an early age. At age 5, she begged a sea captain to help a slave escape, after she saw the slave shipped. Angelina was able to attend a seminary for girls. There, she fainted one day when she saw a slave boy her own age opening a window, and noticed he could barely walk and was covered on his legs and back with bleeding wounds from a whipping. Sarah tried to console and comfort her, but Angelina was marked by this. At age 13, Angelina refused confirmation in the Anglican church of her family because of the church's support for slavery.

Angelina Without Sarah

Also when Angelina was 13, her sister Sarah accompanied their father to Philadelphia and then to New Jersey for his health. Their father died there, and Sarah returned to Philadelphia where she joined the Quakers, drawn by their anti-slavery stance and by their inclusion of women in leadership roles. Sarah briefly returned home to South Carolina, and then moved to Philadelphia.

It fell on Angelina, in Sarah's absence and after her father's death, to manage the plantation and care for her mother. Angelina tried to persuade her mother to set at least the household slaves free, but her mother would not. In 1827, Sarah returned for a longer visit. She was dressed in Quaker simple clothing. Angelina decided she would become a Quaker, remain in Charleston, and persuade her fellow Southerners to oppose slavery.


Within two years, Angelina gave up hope of having an effect while remaining at home. She moved to join her sister in Philadelphia, and she and Sarah set out to educate themselves. Angelina was accepted at Catherine Beecher's school for girls, but their Quaker meeting refused to give permission for her to attend. The Quakers also discouraged Sarah from becoming a preacher.

Angelina became engaged, but her fiance died in an epidemic. Sarah also received an offer of marriage but refused it, thinking she might lose the freedom she valued. They received word about that time that their brother Thomas had died. He had been a hero to the sisters. He was involved in working for emancipating slaves by sending volunteers back to Africa.

Getting Involved in Abolitionism

The sisters turned to the growing abolitionist movement. Angelina, first of the two, joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, associated with the American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833.

On August 30, 1835, Angelina Grimké wrote a letter that would change her life. She wrote to William Lloyd Garrison, a leader in the American Anti-Slavery Society and editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. Angelina mentioned in the letter her first-hand knowledge of slavery.

To Angelina's shock, Garrison printed her letter in his newspaper. The letter was reprinted widely and Angelina found herself famous and at the center of the anti-slavery world. The letter became part of a widely-read anti-slavery pamphlet. Sarah was involved in another anti-slavery project: the "Free Produce" movement to boycott products made with slave labor, a project initiated by Sarah's Quaker inspiration, John Woolman.

The Quakers of Philadelphia did not approve of Angelina's anti-slavery involvement, nor Sarah's less radical involvement. At the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers, Sarah was silenced by a male Quaker leader. So the sisters moved to Providence, Rhode Island, in 1836, where the Quakers were more supportive.

Anti-Slavery Writings

There, Angelina published a tract, "Appeal to the Christian Women of the South." She argued that women could and should end slavery through their influence. Her sister Sarah wrote "An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States." In that essay, Sarah confronted Biblical arguments typically used by the clergy to justify slavery. Sarah followed that with another pamphlet, "An Address to Free Colored Americans." While these were published by two Southerners and addressed to Southerners, they were reprinted widely in New England. In South Carolina, the tracts were publicly burned.

Speaking Careers

Angelina and Sarah received many invitations to speak, first at Anti-Slavery Conventions, and then other venues in the North. Fellow abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld helped train the sisters to improve their speaking skills. The sisters toured, speaking in 67 cities in 23 weeks. At first they spoke to all-woman audiences, and then men began to attend the lectures as well.

A woman speaking to a mixed audience was considered scandalous. The criticism helped them to understand that social limitations on women were part of the same system that upheld slavery.

It was arranged for Sarah to speak to the Massachusetts legislature on slavery. Sarah became ill, and Angelina filled in for her. Angelina was thus the first woman to speak to a United States legislative body.

After returning to Providence, the sisters still traveled and spoke, but they also wrote, this time appealing to their northern audience. In 1837 Angelina wrote an "Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States," and Sarah wrote an "Address to the Free Colored People of the United States." They spoke at the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women.

Catherine Beecher publicly criticized the sisters for not keeping to their proper feminine sphere, i.e. the private, domestic sphere. Angelina responded with Letters to Catherine Beecher, arguing for full political rights for women including the right to hold public office.

The sisters often spoke in churches. The Congregational ministers' association in Massachusetts issued a letter denouncing the sisters' speaking to mixed audienced and denouncing their criticism of interpretations by men of the Bible. Garrison published the ministers' letter in 1838.

Angelina spoke once to a mixed audience in Philadelphia. This so outraged many in the city that a mob attacked the building where she spoke. The building was burned the next day.

Angelina's Marriage

Angelina married fellow abolitionist Theodore Weld in 1838, the same young man who had helped prepare the sisters for their speaking tour. The marriage ceremony included friends and fellow activists both white and black. Six former slaves of the Grimké family attended. Weld was a Presbyterian, the ceremony was not a Quaker one, Garrison read the vows, and Theodore renounced all legal power that laws at the time gave him over Angelina's property. They left "obey" out of the vows. Because the wedding was not a Quaker wedding and her husband not a Quaker, Angelina was expelled from the Quaker meeting. Sarah was also expelled, for attending the wedding.

Angelina and Theodore moved to New Jersey to a farm; Sarah moved with them. Angelina's first child was born in 1839; two more and a miscarriage followed. The family focused their lives around raising the three Weld children and on demonstrating that they could manage a household without slaves. They took in boarders and opened a boarding school. Friends, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband, visited them at the farm. Angelina's health declined.

More Anti-Slavery and Women's Rights

In 1839, the sisters published American Slavery As It Is: Testimony From a Thousand Witnesses. The book was later used as a source by Harriet Beecher Stowe for her 1852 book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The sisters kept up their correspondence with other anti-slavery and pro women's rights activists. One of their letters was to the 1852 women's rights convention in Syracuse, New York. In 1854, the Angelina, Theodore, Sarah and the children moved to Perth Amboy, operating a school there until 1862. Emerson and Thoreau were among the visiting lecturers.

All three supported the Union in the Civil War, seeing it as a path to end slavery. Theodore Weld traveled and lectured occasionally. The sisters published "An Appeal to the Women of the Republic," calling for a pro-Union women's convention. When it was held, Angelina was among the speakers.

The sisters and Theodore moved to Boston and became active in the women's rights movement after the Civil War. All three served as officers of the Massachusetts Women's Suffrage Association. On March 7, 1870, as part of a protest involving 42 other women, Angelina and Sarah voted (illegally).

Grimké Nephews Discovered

In 1868, Angelina and Sarah discovered that their brother Henry had, after his wife died, fathered several sons with an enslaved woman. The sons came to live with Angelina, Sarah and Theodore, and the sisters saw to it that they were educated.

Francis James Grimké graduated from Princeton Theological School and became a minister. Archibald Henry Grimké graduated from Howard Law School. He married a white woman; they named their daughter for her great-aunt Angelina Grimké Weld. Angelina Weld Grimké was raised by her father after her parents separated and her mother chose not to raise her. She became a teacher, poet and playwright recognized later as part of the Harlem Renaissance.


Sarah died in Boston in 1873. Angelina suffered strokes shortly after Sarah's death, and was paralyzed. Angelina Grimké Weld died in Boston in 1879. Theodore Weld died in 1885.