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Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Growing up in a slave-holding family in South Carolina, sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké had first hand experience of the horrors and evils of the institution of slavery. Due to a religious conversion and a strong internal moral code, both sisters chose to leave their southern home and move to Philadelphia. Once in the North, the sisters became actively engaged in the abolition movement, and served as itinerant antislavery lecturers around the New England states. As their fame grew, so did opposition against their presence in the public sphere—an arena that was traditionally male dominated. Despite harsh criticisms against their womanhood and femininity, the Grimké sisters maintained their lecture circuit and continued to speak against slaveholders and slavery. Opposition from the public—particularly the Congregational Church and Catharine Beecher—forced the sisters to defend their womanhood and justify their actions on the public platform of antislavery. This public hostility is what caused the sisters to link antislavery rhetoric with a movement for women’s rights. As the sisters were forced to develop a justification for their antislavery careers, they started to simultaneously develop a conscious political identity based on their natural rights as American citizens and human beings. This thesis traces the development of this political identity, and the journey the Grimké sisters underwent into order to create a foundation for the next generation of women’s rights activists.

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