Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879), abolitionist writer and lecturer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to Mary Smith and John Faucheraud Grimké, a prominent judge and slaveholder. Following her older sister Sarah, Angelina concluded that slavery was wrong and left Charleston for Philadelphia in 1829. Both sisters became Quakers. In 1835, Angelina joined the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which had been founded two years earlier. In 1836, she wrote a powerful “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” which urged southern women to violate social custom to “read,” “pray,” “speak,” and “act” on the issue of slavery. Angelina quickly became one of the most important female activists in the movement because she wrote and spoke from her personal experience of slavery.
Angelina also revolutionized the place of women in the anti-slavery movement. In November 1836, Angelina and her sister Sarah participated in the American Anti-Slavery Society’s training session for lecturers, the only women among fifty men. Their subsequent speaking tour provoked outrage from ministers and the public, who agreed that a woman who assumed “the place and tone of man as a public reformer” became “unnatural.” In response, Angelina reiterated arguments that she had made in a pamphlet addressed to northern women titled “An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States”: “All moral beings have essentially the same rights and the same duties, whether they be male or female.”
In the midst of the controversy over women’s right to lecture against slavery, Angelina married fellow abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld on May 14, 1838 in Philadelphia. Though Weld viewed the issue of women’s rights as damaging to the anti-slavery cause, his marriage vows acknowledged Angelina’s equality. Three days later, with a furious mob surrounding the building, Angelina addressed an integrated audience of abolitionists in the newly opened Pennsylvania Hall. She argued that the hostile crowd demonstrated “that the spirit of slavery is here” and northerners must purify their own hearts before converting the south. Her willingness to fight for racial equality as well as abolition only incensed the mob. The next day, the rowdies set fire to Pennsylvania Hall and destroyed it. As abolitionist women prepared to exit, Angelina proposed that white women link arms with African American women present in order to protect them from physical violence.
Years later, Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, women’s right’s activist, and abolitionist, described Angelina’s career as “a flash” and her marriage an “effectual extinguishment.” While Angelina and Theodore both saw their marriage as a retirement from internal and external conflicts that divided the anti-slavery movement, Mott exaggerated their disappearance. In 1839, they published American Slavery As It Is, which included evidence from southern newspapers showing the violence and brutality of slavery. As native southerners and former slaveholders, Angelina and Sarah also contributed their own firsthand testimony.
In 1848, with Theodore and Sarah, Angelina found another way to contribute to the anti-slavery movement, opening a school on their farm in Belleville, New Jersey. By 1853, they moved the school to the Raritan Bay Union, a utopian community, and renamed it Eagleswood. Dedicated to educating future reformers, this co-educational and integrated school enrolled the children of their fellow abolitionists. After the Civil War, Angelina and Sarah welcomed into the family two mixed-race nephews, Archibald and Francis Grimké, the sons of their brother and one of his slaves. These nephews, like their famous and controversial aunt, also became prominent leaders of the movement for racial equality.
"Angelina and Sarah Grimke: Abolitionist Sisters", By Carol Berkin