Born on November 26, 1792 in South Carolina, Sarah Moore Grimke was one of the first American abolitionists related to abolishing the institution of slavery in the United States and one of the first suffragists to demand equal rights for women. Her father was a well-to-do plantation owner and judge, while her mother was an ordinary housekeeper and obedient wife. As to her education, Grimke longed to attend a university like her brothers but found it impossible, due to the prevailing idea in the early 1800’s that women belonged at home and not in school.
Grimke’s life as an abolitionist and suffragist paved the way for other American women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, both of whom struggled to obtain equal rights for all American women. Thus, Grimke influenced these and other women to express themselves in public and to present their own solutions to ridding America of racial and gender discrimination and prejudice against African-Americans.
During her lifetime, Grimke contributed a great deal to the causes of American women everywhere, especially related to making women as equals in a society run by men. Her first major contribution was as a writer of books that helped to educate American women on their God-given rights as human beings.
Grimke’s first publication was called Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States, printed in 1836, which was meant for the church elders in the slave states like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia. Grimke’s main goal was to express her displeasure over traditional arguments concerning Christianity and its stance on the issue of slavery. As Grimke explains it, slavery “offends the divine image of God that resides within all humans,” and to enslave a human is to treat them as a beast which contradicts the psalm’s divine characterization of human nature” (Anti-Slavery Literature, 2012).
Grimke’s second major contribution as a writer occurred in 1838 with the publication of Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women, a tract or pamphlet which defended the rights of American women to speak their minds in public when confronted with a social or moral issue.
Along with supporting the rights of women all over the world, such as in Asia, Africa, and Europe, Grimke focuses on the rights of American women. In Letter #12, Grimke declares that laws set up by men are the greatest obstacles related to the “improvement and elevation of woman to her appropriate sphere of usefulness and duty,” and that laws have been created to “destroy her independence, and crush her individuality” (Grimke, 2013).
Perhaps Grimke’s most important contribution found in this pamphlet is her statement that “Whatsoever it is morally right for a man to do, it is morally right for a woman to do” which expresses Grimke’s desire to see American women stand their ground when confronted by men who only wished to silence them (Grimke, 2013).
Grimke’s third major contribution as a writer occurred when Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women was published in Boston-based newspaper The Spectator which made it available to women living in the state of Massachusetts, thus allowing Grimke’s radical ideas to spread throughout the state.
Then, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women was published in the famous abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, edited by William Lloyd Garrison, a well-known advocate for the rights of American women. The appearance of Grimke’s pamphlet in this newspaper helped to spread her ideas even further across the United States. It even ended up as a book published in 1838.
Thus, Grimke’s Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women affected the lives of millions of American women who in the early 1840’s were considered as second-class citizens without any rights, especially women living in the Deep South. This pamphlet also inspired other women to express themselves in public, knowing that they could end up in jail.
Along with these contributions in literature, Grimke was also one of the first American women raised on a slave-owning plantation in the South to attack the institution of slavery in public which of course was seen by her male contemporaries as something not befitting a Southern woman.
Grimke was also one of the first American women to act as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society which coincidentally was founded by William Lloyd Garrison with former slave Frederick Douglass as one of its key leaders. Two of Grimke’s younger followers in this society were Lucy Stone and Lydia Maria Child.
Grimke also contributed to the ability of American women to address their contemporaries in a public place with both men and women present which in the Deep South was considered as inappropriate for a woman. Some of Grimke’s addresses and speeches for the American Anti-Slavery Society also included freed slaves in the audience.
In many ways, Grimke contributed to the rights of women to seek out and become employed in careers outside of the home environment. Thus, Grimke “helped to change the nature of female activism in the United States” (Durso, 2008, p. 4) when feminism was in its infancy.
In some ways, Grimke contributed or made it possible for Christian women to speak their minds, not only in public but also in their homes. Grimke also “re-evaluated the restrictions placed on American women by the church” and provided a rather radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament in the Holy Bible that “challenged gender bias and a woman’s involvement in the ministry” (Durso, 2008, p. 8), especially related to the Catholic Church and American fundamentalism.
Perhaps one of Grimke’s most important contributions to setting the stage for the feminist movement was her position as a role model for a “younger generation of women who would become the leaders of the suffrage movement” (Durso, 2008, p. 9) of the early 20th century which inevitably led to the women being given the right to vote.
Over the course of putting together these facts and information on Sarah Moore Grimke, I came to understand that the current position of women in American society was a long and drawn-out battle that really began shortly after the founding of the United States in the mid 1700’s when women were not allowed to participate in politics or to express their thoughts in a public place; sometimes, they could not even express themselves in their own homes. Although Grimke was not the first of her kind to bring the struggles of American women to the forefront as a social issue, she nonetheless helped to change forever how American women work and participate in society as equals to men. Also, my appreciation for the contributions made by Grimke and her fellow “sisters” has grown considerably since doing research on her life as America’s leading female abolitionist and feminist.
Anti-slavery literature. (2012). Retrieved from http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/grimkeepistle
Durso, P.R. (2008). The Power of woman: The life and writings of Sarah Moore Grimke. New York: Mercer University Press.
Grimke, Sarah. (2013). Letters on the equality of the sexes, and the condition of woman. Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=3&psid=3602