Who are they?
Born into upper-class southern society, the sisters grew up in a slave-owning family, but strongly disapproved of slavery (Sarah secretly taught slave children to read, which was against the law). They became abolitionists, and spoke in public about their views, but were criticised because it wasn’t seen as proper for women to speak about such things.
In response to the outcry over their behaviour, Sarah wrote Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman in 1838, predating other feminist theorists by decades.
She asserted that “men and women were created equal…. Whatever is right for a man to do, is right for woman….I seek 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 destined us to occupy.”
Pretty challenging stuff for its time.
Why should we thank them?
The Grimke sisters sacrificed their family relationships to fight for the rights of slaves, and Sarah’s work was among the first feminist texts in the US, challenging the very fabric of the society they lived in. Their views were revolutionary for their time – they argued, for instance, that white women had a natural bond with female, black slaves.
“Women are early taught that to appear to yield is the only way to govern.”