Angelina Emily Grimké was born in 1805
to a rich slave
holding family in Charleston
, South Carolina
. She was the thirteenth child of the family, and was raised as much by her older (by thirteen years) sister Sarah Grimké
as by her mother. Sarah was an intellectual
child, and raised "her Nina" to share her beliefs; in fact, Angelina felt more strongly that slavery
was wrong at an earlier age than Sarah had. At the age of 13, Angelina publicly refused to accept confirmation
in the Episcopal Church
her family attended due to the church's support of slavery, embarrassing and angering her family.
Also unlike her sister, Angelina refused to have a slave be her personal servant; when a slave girl named Kitty got on the wrong side of the rather tempery Mrs. Grimké, Angelina found her a place with a family known for its kindness to their slaves. In general, Sarah tended to live in self-doubt while Angelina felt firmly about her convictions from their beginning, even though they could change quickly. Angelina followed her sister's example and converted to the Presbyterian church in 1827, but less than a year later would be thinking about becoming a Quaker as her sister now had. Her attendance at the Quaker meeting-house in Charleston sparked widespread gossip from those who knew her prominent family. Angelina and her mother argued constantly about her behavior in religion, clothing, opinions on slavery, and other issues. So Angelina decided to join Sarah, who had moved to Philadelphia a few years before.
Angelina had no difficulty with standing up in the meeting-house and saying what she felt God had inspired her to say. However, she did not agree with the religion on all issues; Quakers could not own slaves, but most of them believed that emancipation was not an immediate need. Angelina felt that slavery was a tremendous sin as well as an economic trap for the country. However, for a few years the sisters lived quietly in Philadelphia, and a man named Edward Bettles courted Angelina. The two planned to marry, but Bettles died suddenly during a cholera epidemic in 1834.
Both sisters were becoming interested in the anti-slavery movement, and they subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. One day Angelina decided to write to Garrison and give her experience as one who had grown up with slavery and rejected it. Garrison published the letter, and it was reprinted in other publications; the Quakers of Angelina's acquaintance felt that Garrison was a lunatic and advised Angelina to repudiate the letter, which she refused to do. Both sisters joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which contained prominent Quakers (including Lucretia Mott) and distanced itself somewhat from the more radical American Anti-Slavery Society of which Garrison was a member. However, in a society which still believed women's place was in the home, the mere existance of a Female Anti-Slavery Society was a threat. The members received criticism even from the men in the AAS, which had excluded women from leadership.
Angelina was also receiving criticism for protesting the Quaker policy of making black members of the congregation sit on a separate bench from the white members. The two drifted away from their previous friends, and in 1836 Angelina got the inspiration to write "An Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States," which tried to persuade Southern women that slavery was a sin and that they should take action against it. The idea that women had any force in political/social issues was almost more revolutionary than a women born and raised in the South opposing slavery. The AAS published the essay as a pamphlet which was widely read in the North and widely burned in the South; friends of Angelina's Charleston relatives told them that Angelina could no longer safely visit her home state.
At a conference of abolitionists in New York in late 1836, both sisters met Theodore Weld, a well-known abolitionist speaker and organizer. They would strike up a correspondence, particularly Angelina, with Weld, and within two years the two were considering marriage. Sarah had been publishing abolitionist material, and at the AAS's request the two Grimkes had organized the Female Anti-Slavery Society, a national version of the abolitionist group they had attended in Philadelphia. This organization started out meeting in private homes, but soon attracted large enough audiences that they needed churches or lecture halls, and with this came controversy over whether it was appropriate for women to speak in public. But there was no doubt that they were effective -- they recruited over half the New York members of the AAS in 1837. Theodore Weld was their advisor with his years of lecturing experience. Both sisters also published responses to all the criticism of them or the abolitionist movement that appeared in public. Sometimes they went farther than the AAS wanted them to, by stating that Americans of any color deserved equal rights.
And Angelina also said things about women that the male AAS leadership did not want to hear, most famously in her speech "An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States," which included comments like "Women ought to feel a peculiar sympathy in the colored man's wrong, for like him, she has been accused of mental inferiority, and denied the privileges of a liberal education." This as well as some of Sarah's work worried some of the abolitionists that the Grimkés were abandoning the anti-slavery cause in favor of the women's rights cause. But what both sisters wanted at the end of 1837 was a rest. They spent a few months recovering from illnesses picked up on their lecture tour before being invited to testify before the Massachusetts legislature about their views on slavery. Angelina went without her still-sick sister, and spoke for two hours on the horrors of slavery that she had witnessed in the South. The abolitionists regarded her appearance as a great step forward and felt that she had spoken wonderfully, and even mainstream outlets like the Boston Gazette said that "she exhibited considerable talent for a female."
Angelina Grimké and Theodore Weld were married in May 1838, in a ceremony in which they said their own vows without a minister. A few days later, Angelina was doing lectures again, but after a few months, the Welds and Sarah Grimké moved to a farm in New Jersey where all of them planned to share their views in print rather than lectures. Theodore got his wife and sister-in-law's help in putting together American Slavery As It Is (1839). This book was a compilation of the words of Southerners, taken from many sources describing how slaves were treated. Slaveholders' own words on their "discipline" practices were turned against them. The book was a great success despite the press completely ignoring it. Angelina also gave birth to a son, Charles, and she and Sarah mothered him both out of love and as something to keep them occupied now that they had left their touring years.
Angelina would soon give birth to a second child, Theodore Grimké "Sody" Weld. Her health declined after this second birth, although her correspondence does not give exact details; it seems to have been some kind of gynecological problem. In 1841, Theodore Senior went to Washington to work with John Quincy Adams to promote abolitionist discussion in Congress. This endeavor was fairly successful, but it was difficult for Angelina and Sarah to run the farm alone. After a third child (daughter Sarah) was born and Theodore returned from Washington, the family started to need more money. First they took in children as boarders, and then in 1848 turned the effort into a full-fledged school.
The Belleville School lasted about five years before the family pulled up stakes and opened a different school in New York. This one became much more successful and their financial status was comfortable. Angelina and Sarah became interested in spiritualism, and both sisters also tried wearing the Bloomer costume, an outfit of a calf-length skirt with trousers underneath, gathered at the ankle. Neither felt comfortable in them, but they continued wearing them until advised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton that their energy was better used on other topics than dress reform.
In 1859, the second Weld child, Sody, became seriously ill; physically he seemed all right, but went from being merely lethargic to being confined to a wheelchair. No help was found in either doctors or mediums, and Sody eventually was put in a mental asylum. By 1862, concern over his health (as well as boredom with the school) led all both Welds and Sarah to leave Eagleswood. All three lectures and wrote in support of Abraham Lincoln and the North during the Civil War; after the war they moved to Massachusetts and taught in a school there for several years before retiring in 1867.
In 1868, the sisters had a bombshell handed to them; an article in the National Anti-Slavery Standard mentioned two black students named Grimké who had come north from South Carolina. Grimké was not a particularly common name, so Angelina wrote to ask about their background. She probably suspected what turned out to be the case: these students were the sons of Sarah and Angelina's brother Henry and one of his slaves. The sisters accepted these newfound nephews (and a third still in Charleston) as members of the family; they gave Francis and Archibald Grimké money for their studies and a lot of advice.
Angelina served with Sarah on the board of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, and they went to a demonstration where women tried to vote along with men in 1870. But her health was declining and she was somewhat depressed after Sarah died in 1873. In 1876, she suffered a stroke and was partly paralyzed afterward; Theodore nursed her but she felt she was being a burden. She died in 1879, and her funeral was attended by the few from her own generation and many from the next generation of equal rights fighters, whether for all races or both genders.
Source: Perry, Mark. Lift Up Thy Voice: The Grimké Family's Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders. New York: Viking, 2001.