The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition

Synopsis

A landmark work of women's history originally published in 1967, Gerda Lerner's best-selling biography of Sarah and Angelina Grimke explores the lives and ideas of the only southern women to become antislavery agents in the North and pioneers for women's rights. This revised and expanded edition includes two new primary documents and an additional essay by Lerner. In a revised introduction Lerner reinterprets her own work nearly forty years later and gives new recognition to the major significance of Sarah Grimke's feminist writings.

Excerpt

This book, which was published in hard cover in 1967 and in paperback in 1971, has enjoyed consistent critical acclaim and reader interest for nearly thirty years. It has been widely used in American history courses and helped to make Angelina and Sarah Grimké known as important pioneers of American social reform. Yet its early history was extremely problematical. The book nearly perished before it was born and for several years after its publication led a precarious existence. For my own life, it marked an important turning point and started me in an entirely new direction.

In a sense, I owe my career as a historian to Angelina and Sarah. In 1957, discouraged by my failure to find a publisher for my second novel, I decided to write a historical novel about these remarkable Southern women, who became antislavery agents and activists and who, ten years before the Seneca Falls convention, wrote and worked for woman’s rights. Relying on the great resources of the New York Public Library, I read what I could about the events of the times and began my historical novel. After I had written about eight chapters I realized that my historical knowledge was too thin to do an adequate job and that, above all, I needed to learn how to do historical research. With that in mind, I enrolled in 1958 as an undergraduate at the New School for Social Research, taking as many history courses as I could. As my knowledge of historical method increased, so did my dissatisfaction with my fictional narrative, and I finally discarded it. Instead, I used the material I had already researched to write an honors thesis on the sisters. I realized that I needed more than a few courses to become competent as a historical researcher and decided to go to graduate school and become a historian. By the time I entered graduate school at Columbia University I had nearly completed my research on the Grimkés and had a good start on writing a historical biography of them, which would become my dissertation. It is therefore quite accurate to say that I became a historian because I wanted to write about the sisters.

At that time, in 1962, Sarah and Angelina Grimké were virtually unknown to the American reading public. Their only biography, written by a personal friend and contemporary, had been published in 1885. Their names were not mentioned in the historical literature until 1934, when Professors Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond published some of their letters, together with the letters of Angelina’s husband, Theodore Dwight Weld.

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