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Sarah and Angelina Grimke
Background Information: Sarah and Angelina Grimke were 19th century American Quakers, educators, and also writers who were advocates of abolitionism and woman’s rights. They traveled throughout the North, and they lectured about their first-hand experiences with slavery on their family’s plantation. Judge John Grimke?, the father of the Grimke sisters, was a strong supporter of slavery and of the beliefs that women were not equals. A planter who held hundreds of slaves, Grimke fathered 14 children with his wife. He served as chief judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Sarah was the sixth child and Angelina was the youngest. Sarah said that at age five, after she saw a slave being whipped, she tried to board a boat to a place where there was no slavery. When that attempt failed, she later on taught the slaves how to read.
-What criticism of American society did each individual have?
After seeing how the slaves were treated on their own plantation, the sisters tried to flee to a place where slavery was outlawed. This failed, however, seeing how the slaves were treated provoked the Grimke sisters to become the notable abolitionists that they are know as today. Sarah also wanted to go to college to become a jurist, but when her father and mother found out, they destroyed her hopes of going to college. Her father remarked that if Sarah was not a woman, she could have been a great jurist. This is what provoked them to become reformers for women’s rights. They both believed that slavery was unjust and unfair, and that the slaves were people also, and had no right to be kept against their will. They also believed that women had equal rights in society and were just as equal as men, and that they should have been giving the same rights as the men.
-What methods did the person use to improve American life?
Each sister had different methods that they used during the reform. Angelina Grimke was gifted with the skill of oratory, and it has been said that she captivated the hearts of many when she spoke out about abolitionism and women’s rights. However, she was a poor writer, but this is where her sister came in to play. Sarah, unlike her sister, was poor at giving speeches, but she was a master in the art of the written word. Many of her letters and speeches about the reform were published in books and papers, and the combination of the two sisters made them great reformers.
-What success did each individual have in promoting reform?
Neither Sarah nor Angelina originally thought that they would become members of the feminist movement, but, since they were female reformers, they felt that they were obliged to do so. Sarah, who emphasized the feminist movement over abolitionism, and Angelina, who stayed active in the abolitionist movement, were powerful writers, although Sarah was an even better writer. They kept summaries of the abolitionist arguments which would eventually lead to the Civil War. Sarah's work addressed, 150 years early, many issues that are familiar to the modern feminist movement.
-What details of the person’s work made him/her an interesting historical figure?
Two days after her wedding, Angelina attended an anti-slavery conference in Philadelphia. Rumors of the convention spread and a hostile crowd gathered outside the convention hall. Even though, Angelina Grimke still rose out to speak against slavery. Stones hit the windows, but Angelina still continued to give her speech. She continued on for an hour more, and this was the last public speech she would give. The next morning, an angry mob again surrounded the hall, set fire to the building, ransacked the antislavery offices inside, and destroyed all records and books that were found.
-To what extent was the reformer obsessed with achieving an impractical goal through fanatical or impractical means?
Sarah and Angelina Grimke were not obsessed with achieving their goal, and neither did they use impractical or fanatical means to do so. On the contrary, the means they used to persuade people to take their side were very practical and are accepted by many. They took a pacifist approach and tried to achieve their goals through writing and oratory.
-What lasting impact did the person’s reforms have on American society?
The Grimke sisters were the first female abolitionist advocates and they were both some of the earliest women’s rights advocates. Though the 13th and 19th amendments probably would have passed without them, they still had a great influence through their moral courage and activism. The fact that their family was a slave-holding family made it even more astonishing that they became supporters of the abolitionist movement.
-List several evils that the reformers of the period 1820-1860 tried to eliminate.
Some of the evils that the reformers tried to eliminate during this time period were slavery and unequal/unjust treatment of women in society. While some reformers used impractical means to get their point across, some of the reformers were very reasonable in their actions. Some didn’t want to eliminate a problem altogether, but wanted to make some minor changes so that it would make the affected parties happier while still having a relatively minor impact on their lives.
-What factors created a climate favorable to reform in the early nineteenth century.
There were many factors that created a climate favorable for reform in the early nineteenth century. These include a rise in industry and the need for labor, an increasing civilian participation in politics, increasing levels of education, more readers to newspapers and other media, and ease of travel.
-What common vision of a better world did these individuals have?
Many reformers shared the same visions of what a better world would be like. A majority of the reformers wanted all of the people to be treated like equals, not based on race or their gender. They strove for everyone to have the same rights that the white men had during that time period. Also, some reformers wanted more favorable conditions for working, this led to the formation of labor unions to remedy that problem. One thing that most reformers held in common was a wish for there to be relatively low violence in the world. They believed that the world would be a better place with less violence, which is actually true, and they strived for people to understand and accept their ideas.
-Would you characterize these individuals as idealists or practical reformers? Explain your reasoning.
Many people classified all of the reformers of the nineteenth century as either idealists or practical reformers. I think that each reformer belonged in their own separate section, depending upon their motives for becoming a reformer and what they wished to change. In the case of the Grimke sisters, I would classify them as practical reformers. They wanted everyone to be treated fairly, and they did not become reformers just to better themselves. They were also very practical in the ways that they conveyed their ideas, and that is why I think that the Grimke sisters were practical reformers and not idealists.
-To what extent did these reformers achieve success in the period 1820-1860?
While the reformers would not have had a great impact alone, when they worked together, however, they were very successful in their efforts. Some reformers saw great success in their efforts while others were met with people resistant to change and their efforts ended in utter failure. Then, there were some reformers who had a great impact, but did not achieve success in their lifetime. They passed away before their dreams came to fruition, but still, I am sure that they would have been extremely pleased that they had success, even if it wasn’t in their lifetime. So, it depends on how you look at it, some achieved success, some didn’t, and others achieved success after they perished.
-To what extent did these individuals build a foundation for the realization of reforms in a later period?
The reformers of the nineteenth century built a foundation for future reforms. They showed that it was possible to change a nation, no matter how difficult and arduous it might be, and to never give up on your beliefs. Even though they were met with much resistance, the reformers had a lasting impact on society, and their reforms made our nation the great nation it is today. Many modern reformers draw their inspiration from reformers of the nineteenth century and see them as a source of inspiration and motivation.