Monday, November 26, 2012

Sarah Moore Grimké

 “I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.”

Born this day in 1792: Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873), abolitionist and woman’s rights advocate

Sarah Grimké and her younger sister, Angelina, were born into a wealthy slave-holding family in South Carolina. Sarah abhorred slavery, despite the privileged lifestyle if afforded her. “Slavery,” she wrote, “was a millstone around my neck, and marred my comforts from the time I can remember myself.” Another millstone around her neck was the South’s attitude toward educating girls. Sarah longed to study law like her brother, but had to make do with studying on her own the books in her father’s library (he was a judge).
In 1821 Sarah left the South for good, and her sister Angelina followed her in 1829. Both joined the abolition movement. They were the first women to join the American Anti-Slavery Society.  The Grimké sisters aroused harsh criticism by not only speaking out against slavery, but by speaking out at all because they were women. Soon they were crusading for women’s rights as well. 
In 1836 Sarah published the An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States, in which she refuted the Biblical justifications for slavery. In 1838 she published Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and The Condition of Woman. It is the first major written work arguing for equality of the sexes. In it she decries the role assigned to women; she does not dismiss the importance of motherhood or the household arts, but the instead argues against the oppression of women’s intellect and opportunity in order to cultivate them into the playthings and servants of men. She even argued for equal pay for equal work, a battle still being fought today.
I allude to the disproportionate value set on the time and labor of men and of women.…As for example, in tailoring, a man has twice, or three times as much for making a waistcoast [sic] or pantaloons as a woman, although the work done by each may be equally good. In those employments which are peculiar to women, their time is estimated at only half the value of that of men. A woman who goes out to wash, works as hard in proportion as a wood sawyer, or a coal heaver, but she is not generally able to make more than half as much by a day’s work.
The following year she co-authored, with Angelina and Angelina’s husband, Theodore Weld, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. The work proved to be a great resource for Harriet Beecher Stowe when writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book included discussion of the sexual exploitation of women slaves by white men (a topic Sarah also addressed in Letters on the Equality of the Sexes). Their concern was made manifest in 1868 when they discovered the existence of two nephews, Archibald and Francis, children of their brother Henry and an enslaved woman. Both sisters acknowledged their nephews and sponsored their education. Francis Grimké graduated from Princeton Theological School. Archibald Grimké graduated from Harvard Law School and would go on to become both a lawyer and a leader of the NAACP.
In her later years Sarah remained active in the suffrage movement. In 1870 both she and her sister voted illegally in a local election.

Sarah Grimké was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.

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1 comment:

  1. Sarah Moore Grimke and her sister Angelina are worthy of much more publicity and study. Sue Monk Kidd's 2014 historical-novel is one way of becoming acquainted with Sarah and her similarly famous sister. They were magnetic orators and writers re opposition to slavery and re opposition to rules that enslaved women within developmental boundaries imposed by social, cultural, financial, political attitudes, beliefs and laws.