Sunday, January 19, 2014

208: The Self Empowered Woman: Sarah Grimke

Dear Followers,

Sue Monk Kidd
Sarah Grimke
Many of you may have either read her novels, or watched the film versions of Sue Monk Kidd's novels. The Secret Life of Bees (which starred Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning) was shown in movie theaters and The Mermaid's Chair aired on the Lifetime channel. Today's posting is about her new novel, The Invention of Wings, which was just released last week and is a featured selection of Oprah's Book Club 2.0.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the stories behind Self-Empowered Woman, but I really enjoy sharing information about the lives of women who were born before 1900. From my perspective, they faced even greater challenges while they struggled to be heard and respected. At any rate, here's the story behind The Invention of Wings. 
The novel--which is based on the life of Sarah Moore Grimke, who was born in South Carolina in 1792 (16 years after Jane Austen was born) is a fictionalized version of one of America's most impressive (but unrecognized) women. She was the eighth of fourteen children (the second daughter), and her father was a rich plantation owner who was also an attorney and judge. As a little girl she was annoyed by the fact the her brothers received a classical education, but hers was limited to tutored lessons on "appropriate subjects for young women." The combination of this inequality and her observations of how the slaves lived changed her life forever. From the time she was twelve years old, Sarah spent her Sunday afternoons teaching Bible lessons to the young slaves on the plantation (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
The family attended the Episcopalian Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable), and Sarah's mother volunteered to help the poor in the area as well as female prisoners. Sarah had two goals as a young girl, but because of the values of her time and her parents' rules, neither could be fulfilled. First, she dreamed of becoming an attorney, and she also longed to teach the slaves how to read so they could study the Bible for themselves. Teaching slaves to read had been against the law in South Carolina since 1740, and when her father caught Sarah secretly teaching her personal slave how to read and write her father had the young girl whipped. Sarah stopped the tutoring lessons in order to protect Hetty (who was nicknamed "Handful"), but never stopped working to help the slaves (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream).
Sarah's brother, Thomas, left to attend law school at Yale, and whenever he returned home for a visit he would secretly tutor her on the importance of both law and religion (2: Supportive Someone). When she was 27, Sarah travelled to Philadelphia with her dying father, the rigid man who had controlled her and prevented her from getting a good education. While they were there, he died (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Afterwards, she became more independent and self-assured, and decided to remain in Philadelphia where she was introduced to Quakerism. She decided to leave both the Episcopal Church and Charleston (14: Selective Disassociation), and become a Quaker minister.
This is where she encountered even more discrimination. The male members of the Quaker community felt, as did most people of that time, that women should be subservient and limited to the domestic arena. In 1836, Sarah published a pamphlet "An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States," which denounced slavery. And by 1837, both she and her sister (Angelina) were being attacked because they bravely but (for that era) scandalously spoke publicly in front of "mixed audiences" (men and women). They also dared to debate men who held anti-abolitionist positions (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).
In 1838, Sarah wrote "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes" to argue that the rights and liberties of both African-Americans and women were one and the same. It's hard to imagine how much courage it must have taken (during that long-ago discriminatory era) to have publicly--and simultaneously--denounced both slavery and discrimination against women (7: Magnificent Obsession).
Later that year Angelina married the Abolitionist Theodore Weld, and with Sarah they moved to New Jersey where they opened a school. During the Civil War they lectured and wrote in support of Abraham Lincoln. After the war, the three moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where the two sisters campaigned for women's rights for the rest of their lives. Sarah died on December 23rd, 1873.
Looking forward to your comments...

No comments:

Post a Comment