Tales of the Sisters Grimké

March 10th, 2013 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

tea

 

I sat on it for a day. Yep, there was still stinky, strained stuff at the women’s tea in glorious downtown Hyde Park yesterday.

Almost entirely good stuff abounded. Angela Menino stood up and in for her hubby, that Tom guy.  The third annual presentation of the local version of women on the year presentations (a.k.a. “Women Amongst Us”) included pots of flowers and standing O’s. Petite tea sandwiches — curried chopped chicken, cucumber, and turkey/cheese — kept the early 20th Century flavor. Three City Councilors, Consalvo, Arroyo and Pressley, showed. The upstairs at Annabelle’s was ladies who lunch, but with tea instead of martinis.

I was one of perhaps six men in a room of roughly 100 women, and come to think of it all women waitrons. I enjoyed it mostly and intend to use my bar of suffragist soap they set at each place.

The unnecessary undercurrent of male bashing was a tad surprising, Women’s History Month or not.

Two authors were there to flog their books and comment on former Hyde Park residents, the Grimké sisters, Angelina and Sarah. One, Angelina biographer Louise Knight, had trouble with men, particularly her subject’s husband. The other, poet Amy Benson Brown, corrected Knight’s male bashing without making a deal out of doing so.

The living accomplished local women included:

  • Martha McDonough — among many other civic leadership feats was cleaning up the Neponset last year.
  • Tonya Grimes — whose volunteerism has long included Civil War reenactor and active member of the Colored Ladies Christian Relief Society.
  • Sharon Grimberg — WGBH executive producer, whose series include the PBS American Experience shows, such as the recent The Abolitionists.

The deceased accomplished were the sisters Grimké. While raised as privileged daughters of a South Carolina planter, replete with slaves everywhere, they turned. They were appalled by slavery and came to Yankeeland, where they devoted themselves to abolition and later to women’s rights, particularly suffrage.

I was pleasantly surprised when I researched our newest neighborhood four years ago to discover the Weld/Grimké history. Hyde Park seems fairly apolitically suburban. The legacy of the first black U.S. soldiers, abolitionists, suffrage fighters and more was a delight. I touched on the Fairmount Hill links several times, including here and here.

exhouse

This will be a more Angelina year than most, both down here and downtown. On Monday, Oct. 7th, a celebration of Angelina’s speech will be at the John Hancock Hall, with a performance of part of her speech, Gloria Steinem reading her 1970 Equal Rights Amendment testimony to the U.S. Senate, and more. The event is in the works and will get publicity.

The spot near where she lived in the house her husband, ardent abolitionist Rev. Theodore Weld, bought for them will get a plaque this spring, Hyde Park Main Streets Executive Director Patrice Gattozzi told me. I hope she does follow up on my offers to work on this.

At the least, she should know that the house is gone. Where they lived at 212 Fairmount Avenue had a facing home, but the entrance was a carriage drive on then Pond (now Highland). We bought the 1876 map that hangs in our living room. A snatch of it here shows the old digs between Fairmount and Warren.

Rightfully the luncheon and particularly speaker Knight spoke of Angelina’s courage, conviction and accomplishment. Particularly, she was likely the first non-monarch female to address a legislative body anywhere. She spoke three times in a few days on abolition to the Massachusetts legislature. This was a time when women were forbidden or actively discouraged from speaking at all in public, and certainly not before “promiscuous audiences” as groups of mixed genders were known. She lacked neither clarity of vision nor courage.

There came the rub for me.

Knight published two works on Jane Addams and just finished a dual bio on the sisters Grimké. However, if the luncheon lecture is any indication, she can’t seem to get over the partnership between Angelina and her husband. As she spoke of Angelina, she repeatedly mentioned a letter or other contact with “her fiance Theodore.” Knight never once mentioned his name or honorific. She never said he was a renowned abolitionist (often referred to by historians of the period as “the lion of abolition”). She never spoke of how the pair complemented each other’s politics and worked together, first fighting slavery, then on to women’s rights. You’d think Rev. Weld was a groupie for this outspoken woman instead of an equal. Knight said that “her fiance” told Angelina not to speak of women’s rights at all.

I sat next to my wife, who also knows the Grimké and Weld story. I said that was a really sexist and dishonest lecture. She was a bit flippant (maybe it was the Earl Grey talking), Oh, it is women’s history month, and the other 11 months are for men.  That doesn’t cut it with me anymore than the YWCA (it is the Young Women’s Christian Association. snicker) excluding boys and men from everything while the YMCA went inclusive, becoming the family organization and having a much greater impact on the nation.

Fortunately the next author and poet was more historically accurate and not male exclusionary. Amy Benson Brown did not say, “Let me correct Ms. Knight,” but she did do that. She called Weld by his full name. She noted the partnership that led to marriage, as well as the then shocking ceremony where Weld refused to claim dominion over her and she did not say she would obey him. He was after all a Unitarian and proto-feminist. He did once before they married ask her to soft-pedal the dual message of women’s rights until the abolition of slavery was settled. He had devoted decades to abolishing slavery, knew how successful she had been in the effort, and did not want her to become ineffective with a double whammy…yet. Later, they became a powerful team fighting for suffrage and leading the first-in-the-nation protest where Hyde Park women (and their men) marched to the town hall to cast ballots that they knew would not be counted, but that had strong symbolism.

They were a team from their engagement through marriage. Better stuff than lies-of-omission history about a brave woman all alone, I say.

I grew up with a divorced mom raising two of us. Neither denigrating women nor bashing males was acceptable. That should be the order of things. I can pose my typical Unitarian and progressive self-examination. Am I clean enough to comment? I think so.

Sarah was somewhat important, particularly as the much decade-plus older sister of Angelina, who led the way in thought. Of the 14 Grimké siblings, 11 of whom survived to adulthood, the pair of sisters had the intellectual clarity and morality to fight slavery, leave their comfortable surroundings, and change a nation. Angelina was the front, the orator, and the one who partnered with a like-minded reformer/radical. What a pair! Yet, let’s not lessen Weld’s tremendous influence and dedication. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was just a man, but pretty clearly his wife’s equal.

 

Share
Advertisement

Leave a Reply