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The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition

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A landmark work of women's history originally published in 1967, Gerda Lerner's best-selling biography of Sarah and Angelina Grimke explores the lives and ideas of the only southern women to become antislavery agents in the North and pioneers for women's rights. This revised and expanded edition includes two new primary documents and an additional essay by Lerner. In a rev A landmark work of women's history originally published in 1967, Gerda Lerner's best-selling biography of Sarah and Angelina Grimke explores the lives and ideas of the only southern women to become antislavery agents in the North and pioneers for women's rights. This revised and expanded edition includes two new primary documents and an additional essay by Lerner. In a revised introduction Lerner reinterprets her own work nearly forty years later and gives new recognition to the major significance of Sarah Grimke's feminist writings.


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A landmark work of women's history originally published in 1967, Gerda Lerner's best-selling biography of Sarah and Angelina Grimke explores the lives and ideas of the only southern women to become antislavery agents in the North and pioneers for women's rights. This revised and expanded edition includes two new primary documents and an additional essay by Lerner. In a rev A landmark work of women's history originally published in 1967, Gerda Lerner's best-selling biography of Sarah and Angelina Grimke explores the lives and ideas of the only southern women to become antislavery agents in the North and pioneers for women's rights. This revised and expanded edition includes two new primary documents and an additional essay by Lerner. In a revised introduction Lerner reinterprets her own work nearly forty years later and gives new recognition to the major significance of Sarah Grimke's feminist writings.

30 review for The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition

  1. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    This is the kind of meaty, prose-y, poetic, historical, *real* writing I love sinking my brain into. The kind of book that thrills you and makes you want to go get your PhD in women's studies.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    This is a remarkable read -- the research Gerda Lerner put forth over many years (decades) to preserve the Grimke sisters'place in history (and the prominence they well deserve) is, in itself, inspiring; however, the impact these two sisters had on both the abolitionist and women's rights movements is truly incredible. That I'd never heard of them until I happened to read Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" (which I thought was a mediocre attempt at historical fiction) is disheartening. Ler This is a remarkable read -- the research Gerda Lerner put forth over many years (decades) to preserve the Grimke sisters'place in history (and the prominence they well deserve) is, in itself, inspiring; however, the impact these two sisters had on both the abolitionist and women's rights movements is truly incredible. That I'd never heard of them until I happened to read Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" (which I thought was a mediocre attempt at historical fiction) is disheartening. Lerner's book should be on everyone's required reading list. If you're a fan of David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin, you will certainly appreciate Lerner's methodical and exhaustive approach to historical research as well as her ability to transport you to a very difficult and tragic time in our nation's history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    This is one of my favorite history books of all time for a number of reasons. I try to keep a copy near me always. It's great biography (dual biography at that). It's by Gerda Lerner, who was one of the most influentual female historians in general and one of the most influential historians of women's history in particular. The Grimkes are some of my favorite subjects. I don't want to give away too much here. Read for yourself and discover how much more interesting truth is than fiction. It's no This is one of my favorite history books of all time for a number of reasons. I try to keep a copy near me always. It's great biography (dual biography at that). It's by Gerda Lerner, who was one of the most influentual female historians in general and one of the most influential historians of women's history in particular. The Grimkes are some of my favorite subjects. I don't want to give away too much here. Read for yourself and discover how much more interesting truth is than fiction. It's not only interesting but inspiring - and not in a hagiagraphic way.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    After my book club read "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd, I was curious to learn more about the Grimke sisters. This book did the job. It was well researched and written and gave me a real appreciation for the struggles of these two pioneers of both the abolition movement and the women's suffrage movement.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melody Schwarting

    Heads up, I'm super biased. I think Angelina Grimké hung the moon and I'm spending a year of my life researching her. Gerda Lerner's biography of the Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, is a seminal text in women's history. It represents the shift that the 1960s wrought in American scholarship, suddenly opening the academic world to serious, broad historical research on the history of women and people of color. Lerner's biography of the Grimkés, first published in 1967, was the first one to appea Heads up, I'm super biased. I think Angelina Grimké hung the moon and I'm spending a year of my life researching her. Gerda Lerner's biography of the Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, is a seminal text in women's history. It represents the shift that the 1960s wrought in American scholarship, suddenly opening the academic world to serious, broad historical research on the history of women and people of color. Lerner's biography of the Grimkés, first published in 1967, was the first one to appear since 1885. Since the '60s, Grimké scholarship has been active, if not prolific. She casts the sisters as members of the first generation to be born in the United States after the Revolution, which was a new way of thinking for me. Lerner masters the personalities and contributions of each sister. Occasionally, she dips into speculation about the motivations of each, but is clear that these statements are speculative. (Lerner started her Grimké research hoping to write a historical novel, but became a historian instead.) I found this text essential as a Grimké scholar, since it allows me to track their stories year by year and orient me to their most important projects and contributions. Lerner's examination of the home life of the adult Grimkés (once Angelina had married Theodore Dwight Weld, and Sarah decided to live with them) is particularly helpful, as is her research into Sarah's relationship with Harriot Hunt, the first female medical practitioner in the US. Sarah and Angelina Grimké anticipated many of the struggles of abolition, women's rights, and civil rights. They spoke and wrote cogently and persuasively from the Scriptures about human rights. As I learn more and more about the anti-slavery/abolition movement, I'm continually struck by the uniqueness of Angelina's views. "I want to be identified with the negro;" Angelina wrote in 1863, "until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours." Unlike other women's rights activists, Angelina did not give up her efforts for the civil rights of black people after the 15th amendment. The legacy of the Grimkés lived on in their black nephews (sons of Henry Grimké, their brother, by his then-slave, Nancy Weston), Francis Grimké and Archibald Henry Grimké, who were respected religious and political leaders in their time. The sisters' views on the Civil War was fascinating to me. First, they were pacifists*, though willing to die themselves for the abolitionist cause. Second, they did not wholeheartedly support Lincoln, whom they thought was fighting the war to preserve the Union rather than to free the slaves (they thought he dragged his feet on the Emancipation Proclamation). Third, Sarah wrote that she "want[ed] the South to do her own work of emancipation. She would only do it from dire necessity, but the North will do it from no higher motive, and the South will feel less exasperation if she does it herself." The Grimké's antebellum abolition work was characterized by chastising the North for prejudice and complicity, and their personal experience as daughters of Charleston gave them special insight into Southern culture. From a twenty-first century perspective, I do wonder if the Lost Cause movement and Confederate idolization would have been lessened if, by some miracle, the South had chosen to abolish slavery itself rather than go to war to preserve it. Side note, this was the first time I read about mail systems in the South censoring anti-slavery materials. Ah, fascism. Overall, I recommend this biography to anyone who wants to learn about the Grimkés. I'm eager to read Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin's biography of Angelina, and look forward to comparing the two treatments of her life. *They fit pretty well into the mold of the mid-eighteenth century philosophical rebel--utopian communities, Grahamite diets, a sprinkling of spiritualism, et c.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Halter

    The Grimke Sisters From South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition by Gerda Lerner A fascinating and inspiring read about two sisters, the only abolitionists who came out of the southern aristocracy. (Their father was a prominent lawyer, judge and plantation owner & their mother was a strong apologist for slavery.) In becoming orators who spoke to large audiences about slavery, they so violated the 1830s norms for women that they helped initiate the suffragist movement. Moreover, th The Grimke Sisters From South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition by Gerda Lerner A fascinating and inspiring read about two sisters, the only abolitionists who came out of the southern aristocracy. (Their father was a prominent lawyer, judge and plantation owner & their mother was a strong apologist for slavery.) In becoming orators who spoke to large audiences about slavery, they so violated the 1830s norms for women that they helped initiate the suffragist movement. Moreover, these sisters consistently walked the talk, sacrificing and embracing a life without slavery. Above all, in this terrible age of Trump, the book made me see the importance of both large & small acts of resistance. And though slavery didn’t end for another thirty years, their actions as well as those of other abolitionists contributed to the end of slavery. So although this book was originally published in 1967, it speaks to readers today who might be struggling to make changes.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Frrobins

    I packed this book because I was going to vacation in South Carolina and liked the idea of reading a biography with the location of the people I was learning about in my immediate surroundings. While this book was written in the 1960s, the story of the Grimke sisters is very relevant now. The Grimke sisters, simply, were rather ahead of their time, in battling not just slavery, but the racism that fueled slavery. They recognized that our society will never be equal unless we rid ourselves of rac I packed this book because I was going to vacation in South Carolina and liked the idea of reading a biography with the location of the people I was learning about in my immediate surroundings. While this book was written in the 1960s, the story of the Grimke sisters is very relevant now. The Grimke sisters, simply, were rather ahead of their time, in battling not just slavery, but the racism that fueled slavery. They recognized that our society will never be equal unless we rid ourselves of racist ideas. Reading this in conjunction with "Stamped from the Beginning" by Ibram Kendi would be incredibly enlightening. They also practiced what they preached. They invited black people into their homes, worshipped with black people, frequented their businesses, and spoke up for their black friends. After the Civil War when they discovered that their brother had fathered several children with one of his slaves, they reached out to their nephews and offered to pay for their education, and did, even though their were never in financially secure positions themselves. What further made the Grimke sisters unique was that they were privileged white women who benefited from slavery and who turned their backs on the corrupt system and fought to change it. The arguments people are currently making in 2018, that slavery wasn't so bad for example, are demolished by this book. Both sisters witnessed slaves being tortured and even pointed out that no one in the south denied their allegations of slaves being mistreated, they instead tried to do their best to censor and silence the sisters. The other "benefit" of slavery that apologists make is that slaves had healthcare and food and shelter. The Grimke sisters demolished this argument as well. It was also fun to see the names of the people the Grimke's interacted with and to realize what a small circle the abolition movement was. Especially since I have only briefly heard about the Grimke sisters. My edition included a introduction about the story of just getting this book to publication, where it faced a lot of sexism with publishers who told the author that women's biographies wouldn't sell and was interesting in and of itself. My only complaint was this book seemed a bit like a teaser trailer. Some parts of their lives were explore in depth, others were skimmed over. That said, it has cemented my belief that we need to teach about the history of the Abolition and Women's Rights movement in schools. People need to understand that the fight of freedom did not end when the Revolutionary War did. While the Grimke sisters were not soldiers, they stood their ground when confronted with a deadly, dangerous mob, and said their piece and stood up for a hated and downtrodden group of people. That sort of courage and bravery is not something that we recognize nearly as much as we ought to.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sue Tretter

    Wonderful book! Well written although there were a few times when I wanted more information about a particular person, place or thing. Helpful footnotes, appendices, bibliography and a good index are welcome aides. But more often than not, Lerner introduced uncounted people active in the Abolitionist, and later the Women's Rights movement, provided just enough information about their contributions, and then moved on to provide a very comprehensive recounting of the many main movers and shakers, Wonderful book! Well written although there were a few times when I wanted more information about a particular person, place or thing. Helpful footnotes, appendices, bibliography and a good index are welcome aides. But more often than not, Lerner introduced uncounted people active in the Abolitionist, and later the Women's Rights movement, provided just enough information about their contributions, and then moved on to provide a very comprehensive recounting of the many main movers and shakers, from the birth of Sarah (in 1792, died at age 81) to the death of Theodore Weld, Angelina's fellow abolitionist and husband (died in 1895). The sisters Grimke were the first to say, write and do so many amazing (or outrageous, depending on one's point of view) things and yet they were practically lost to history, only to be re-discovered in the 1960s. Their circle of fellow abolitionists was enormous including John Quincy Adams, John Greenleaf Whittier, the Beecher family, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and so many others including my ancestor, Alvan Stewart; their circle of correspondents was even more numerous. Late in their lives, the Grimkes learned that they had Black nephews whom they welcomed into the family, what was called an "acid test" because some who professed abolitionist beliefs might have ignored Negro relatives. Not these sisters! Never in a million years would they think of ignoring family, white or black, northern or southern, abolitionist or slave owner. I learned so much including the fact that women were paid about one fourth to one third of what men were paid for the same work. (page 240) The demand for higher pay sought a raise to only 50-60% of men's wages and that was deemed radical. Their lives were bleak indeed. We speak of a war on women today: they lived a daily war where female weren't allowed an education; weren't allowed to speak in public assemblies of men; weren't allowed a profession; ad infinitum. I thank these women and their peers for paving the path for me and my descendants: we now stand on their shoulders, and the shoulders of all who marched, signed petitions, who suffered injustices, and who spoke in favor of equal rights for all!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    Good book! The writing was dry and dated, but I knew very little before about these amazing women. Yes, they were privileged Southern white hetero women, modest in dress and attractive, who were heard for these things, at least at first, rather than the content of their speeches. But to think, that in the early 1830s, people attended anti-slavery meetings TO LAUGH because it was a woman delivering the speech! Because women had never spoken in public to a group of men before, let alone about politi Good book! The writing was dry and dated, but I knew very little before about these amazing women. Yes, they were privileged Southern white hetero women, modest in dress and attractive, who were heard for these things, at least at first, rather than the content of their speeches. But to think, that in the early 1830s, people attended anti-slavery meetings TO LAUGH because it was a woman delivering the speech! Because women had never spoken in public to a group of men before, let alone about politics! And then, they had the nerve to speak in front of legislatures! And they dared to be surrounded, and even invite into their homes, people of color! For all of these reasons, they were under threat of physical danger because they were considered radicals. It is just amazing to me how recent that was, how so much change, positive change, can be made in such a short period of time. The book is also interesting for a basic understanding of the political organization and tactics of the abolition movement.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Spencer

    Having just read The Invention of Wings I simply had to read a real biography of these two sisters to see how the two books compare. They're pretty darn close, except for the fictionalized Netty Handful Grimké. Wings ends at about the time of their mother's death. The biography continues for another 40 years. They were a remarkable pair and their lives crossed with many noted Americans of the time—Horace Greely, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, John Quincy Adams, Henry David Thoreau, Having just read The Invention of Wings I simply had to read a real biography of these two sisters to see how the two books compare. They're pretty darn close, except for the fictionalized Netty Handful Grimké. Wings ends at about the time of their mother's death. The biography continues for another 40 years. They were a remarkable pair and their lives crossed with many noted Americans of the time—Horace Greely, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, John Quincy Adams, Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Stanton, William Cullen Bryant, and the entire Beecher family, to name just a few. Their biggest contribution to the abolition movement was the idea that prejudice against color was the very spirit of slavery. It was an issue on which they were consistently in advance of most white abolitionists.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Becky Loader

    Sarah and Angelina Grimke were sisters in the early times of the 19th century. Groomed to be wives and mothers, they had inquiring minds and a wonderful brother who was more than willing to share his lessons with them. They were not content to remain in the home. The sisters shared many radical ideas, including abolition of slavery and rights for women. Working within the framework of religion and how ideas were spread in the time, they had a remarkable effect on the beginning of social reform. T Sarah and Angelina Grimke were sisters in the early times of the 19th century. Groomed to be wives and mothers, they had inquiring minds and a wonderful brother who was more than willing to share his lessons with them. They were not content to remain in the home. The sisters shared many radical ideas, including abolition of slavery and rights for women. Working within the framework of religion and how ideas were spread in the time, they had a remarkable effect on the beginning of social reform. They became public speakers and writers of pamphlets and broadsides that were distributed widely. Excellent biography of two pretty amazing 19th century women.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    very interesting non-fiction history of two sisters from the south who were deeply involved in the abolionist movement prior to the civil war. And their resulting involvmentthe woman's rights movement. Written by Gerda Lerner who was instrumental in getting women's history studies courses in colleges. Mrs. Lerner taught at University of Wisconsin and Duke.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joe Shoenfeld

    I first read this extraordinary book almost forty years ago and today found it remained moving and meaningful. These visionary women are heroes, brilliant women of tremendous courage who, though largely unremembered today, had a profound effect on our national history. Lerner's work is masterful and does them real justice.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Amazingly well written book about the Grimke sisters, their activism in both abolition and women's rights, and their personal struggles. Lerner originally intended this as a novel and it reads accordingly--I found this hard to put down.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    I read this after reading The Invention of Wings. I wanted to see how closely the fictionalized novel stuck to the real story of these amazing women. They were years ahead of their time. It was a bit dry, but lots of interesting and valuable information about abolitionists.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Grimke' Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman's Rights and Abolition (Paperback) by Gerda Lerner

  17. 4 out of 5

    Donna Coakley

    too much information, not enough story

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wisteria Leigh

    social reformers,abolitionists,South Carolina,19th century,American history,non-fiction,feminism,anti-slavery,equal rights,womens' rights,

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    had to read this in college. it was a long read but very informative. glad it was required otherwise I never would have picked it up

  20. 5 out of 5

    Georgie

    Having read Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings", I found this non-fiction book about the Grimke Sisters very interesting and informative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daud Ahmed

    Vilde søstre.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I picked this up to get more information about these two brave women. I did not finish it - it was slow reading, and I had learned enough.

  23. 5 out of 5

    HeavyReader

    I read this book a long time ago. I remember how it really brought home the terrors of US slavery. It was not emotionally easy to read, but I think it gave me useful information.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Hall

    What a gift Gerda Lerner has put together! This book should be required reading in history classes in both high school and colleges around the nation. Not to know this is a travesty.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Karen Floyd

    I so pleased to find this book, along with Lerner's "The Feminist Thought of Sarah Grimke," in a used bookshop, and grabbed them off the shelf before anyone could beat me to them. I'd been wanting to know more about the sisters since reading "The Invention of Wings" last winter. This is a joint biography of the two sisters whose lives were intertwined with each other's, but it also shows their individuality, and presents each sister's experiences. Given the pressures on them to conform in their I so pleased to find this book, along with Lerner's "The Feminist Thought of Sarah Grimke," in a used bookshop, and grabbed them off the shelf before anyone could beat me to them. I'd been wanting to know more about the sisters since reading "The Invention of Wings" last winter. This is a joint biography of the two sisters whose lives were intertwined with each other's, but it also shows their individuality, and presents each sister's experiences. Given the pressures on them to conform in their home state of South Carolina, it is a tribute to their strength of character that they did not. What was it in them that made them see slavery as morally wrong and reprehensible, something to be abolished, when their family and their world did not? In writing about the Grimke sisters' lives and thoughts, Lerner gives us an important view into our country's past, into the harsh realities of life as a slave, and life as a woman, in the first half of the 1800's. We need to know this, to be reminded of it, so that we are not tempted to whitewash the past, as one recent politician tried to, claiming that slavery "wasn't that bad."

  26. 4 out of 5

    OtterGirl25

    Sorry I just don’t like long biographies. Book seemed a bit dull at times- but i love the people! Angelina and Sarah are very interesting people who worked to stop slavery and fought for women’s rights. If you’re interested in how our nation began it’s journey from a white mans world to a nation for all (do not attack me on politics, I am a teen so I will not say how far we have progressed.) to avoid offending anyone with politics, I will conclude that, though there were spots I forced myself th Sorry I just don’t like long biographies. Book seemed a bit dull at times- but i love the people! Angelina and Sarah are very interesting people who worked to stop slavery and fought for women’s rights. If you’re interested in how our nation began it’s journey from a white mans world to a nation for all (do not attack me on politics, I am a teen so I will not say how far we have progressed.) to avoid offending anyone with politics, I will conclude that, though there were spots I forced myself through, it was very much my taste, not the book nor the people described.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Despite some out-of-date language, this book details the lives of two women whose work has gone largely unremembered by history (everyone I've mentioned it to has been unfamiliar with the subjects). It falls into the usual difficulties of biographies I've read in that I had trouble separating out and remembering the secondary subjects, but it gets credit for placing these women in the historical narrative.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bailey

    HIS-212. This was surprisingly good!! Really interesting look at two important feminists and abolitionists.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Michalik

    Wordy and lots of details but good history to know.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sheena

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