Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

ANGELINA GRIMKÉ WELD
(1805-1879), pioneer advocate for human rights

PHYLLIS M. JAPP

Angelina Grimké Weld was one of the first women speakers in the United States. Although her public career spanned less than a decade, her status as a woman orator and her contribution to abolitionism and woman's rights are widely acknowledged. She was born in the South, the daughter of John Grimké, a wealthy South Carolina judge and plantation owner. Although she had little formal education, the Grimké family encouraged intellectual pursuits; the children had access to the family library, read widely, and engaged in discussions of law, politics, philosophy, and history. Grimké Weld continued to educate herself throughout her life.

At a young age, she became convinced that slavery was evil, a belief that put her at odds with her family and the southern society in which she lived. She was also unusually religious for a young woman of her time. Born into an Episcopalian family, she was converted in the revivalistic wave of the early nineteenth century and became a Presbyterian. She followed her sister Sarah into the Quaker faith but was excommunicated for marrying outside the church. Later in life, she held no formal church membership but continued to devote much time to reading and interpreting the Bible.

When Judge Grimké fell ill and needed medical treatment, SARAH GRIMKÉ accompanied her father to Philadelphia. She later decided to settle permanently in the North and encouraged her younger sister to join here there. Angelina Grimké left the South in 1829 at the age of twenty-four. Long concerned about slavery, she eagerly absorbed the abolitionist teachings popular in Quaker circles. Her private convictions became public knowledge when a letter she wrote to William Lloyd Garrison was published in his anti-slavery journal, the Liberator. The letter attracted the attention of many in the abolitionist movement. Among the readers was Theodore Weld, the abolitionist orator, who invited Grimké to become one of his anti-slavery agents.

Although she was horrified at the publicity generated by the appearance of her letter, Grimké felt she must do whatever she could to aid the abolitionist efforts. Thus, the two Grimké sisters began writing and speaking of their first- hand experiences with the system of slavery and recruiting women to the work of abolition. Together they lectured throughout New England in 1837 and early 1838. During this period, the sisters also wrote prolifically on both abolition and woman's role in social reform. Angelina Grimké authored Appeal to the Christian Women of the South ( 1836), a tract that laid out her challenge to southern women. This was followed by Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States ( 1837), Grimké's address to the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. Meanwhile, Catharine Ward Beecher published a series of letters opposing the sisters'

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