Sarah and Angelina Grimke eloquently fought the injustices of slavery, racism and sexism during the mid-19th century. As daughters of a prominent South Carolina judge and plantation owner, the Grimke sisters witnessed the suffering of slaves.
Determined to speak out, they were eventually forced to move to the North, where they continued to appeal to northerners and southerners to work toward abolition. They also urged white northerners to end racial discrimination. The Grimke sisters were pioneering women. Among the first female abolitionists, they were the first women to speak publicly against slavery, an important political topic. Faced with criticism from clergy and others that they were threatening “the female character,” they continued their crusade. In 1838, Angelina became the first woman to address a legislative body when she spoke to the Massachusetts State Legislature on women’s rights and abolition.
Active in the women’s movement, they helped set the agenda later followed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and others, calling for equal educational opportunities and the vote.
One historian said of Sarah’s writings: “[They were] a milestone on the road to the Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls” and “central to the feminist writings in the decades that followed.” Sarah was one of the first to compare the restrictions on women and slaves, writing that “woman has no political existence . . . . She is only counted like the slaves of the south, to swell the number of lawmakers.”
After the Civil War, they continued to champion the causes of equality and women’s rights. Through their examples and their words, the Grimke sisters proved that women could affect the course of political events and have a far-reaching influence on society.