Angelina and Sarah Grimke – Sisters Who Helped Change History

The world is full of families that have worked together to achieve remarkable things. Through their deeds, many of them leave this earth a better place than they found it. A small part of a large family, Angelina and Sarah Grimke went against many of their father’s beliefs, during the 19th century, to help change the course of America’s history. 

The two women were born to the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of North Carolina during a time when slavery was rampant. Their father personally owned many slaves and believed in the subordination of women. The girls were raised on a large plantation which showed them the worst aspects of humanity, early in life. Sarah even tried to run away at the age of five, because of the horrors she witnessed on the plantation. Although it was against the law, she also taught her personal slave to read. As a young girl, Sarah showed an intense desire to excel in academics. When her father forbade her from going to college, she requested to be godmother to her youngest sister, Angelina. The girls became very close and spent the rest of their lives fighting for a cause together.

In 1835, the Grimke sisters began to personally support the Abolition Movement, making speeches throughout the country. This exposed them to how powerless women were during the era. Angelina’s first article against slavery, encouraged southern women to join the Movement to stop their husbands from cheating on them with their slaves. The tone and content of her writing sparked outrage, as this topic would not have been publicly discussed at the time.

In addition to campaigning for the abolition of slavery, the sisters supported racial acceptance. Regardless of the criticism they received after each speech, they pressed on and, in 1838, became the first women to address the Massachusetts State Legislature. Despite the scandal that ensued, they received a large female following. This increased to thousands of women, many of whom would travel over long distances to hear the sisters speak.

After Angelina got married to abolitionist and women’s right supporter, Theodore Weld, Sarah moved in with the couple and they both retired from public speaking. The sisters continued editing and writing for abolitionist newspapers, however. They also started a boarding school where those who supported abolitionism could send their children to be educated about politics and slavery, without the era’s prejudices. When the sisters found out that their deceased brother had fathered three children by a slave woman, they welcomed the two eldest into their home and provided them with education and support.

Despite the hardships that Sarah and Angelina endured, their dedication was rewarded. Both women lived long enough to witness the abolition of slavery, and the passing of the 15th Amendment. In 1870, as Sarah was approaching 80, the Grimke sisters tearfully voted for the first time. 

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