Letters on the Equality of the Sexes Addressed to mary s. parker, president of the boston female anti-slavery society

Sarah Grimké 1792-1873
  • Sarah Moore Grimké was an American abolitionist, a writer, and an advocate for women's rights as well as the women's suffrage movement.
  • Grimké was born in Charleston, South Carolina to a wealthy planter family. She was the 6th of 14 children. Her experiences growing up shaped her to be an abolitionist.
  • As a child, Grimké was aware of the inferiority of her education in comparison to her brothers' education. Even though her family knew she was very intelligent, she was still not allowed to further her education or pursue her dream of being a lawyer.
  • Sarah developed a relationship with her family's slaves early in her childhood which deeply unsettled her parents. She would spend Sunday afternoons teaching the bible to young slaves, which she found frustrating because the young slaves weren't literate.
  • She wanted to teach the slaves to read but her parents would not allow it, as teaching a slave to read was illegal.
  • Sarah secretly taught her personal slave Hetty to read and write, but when her father found out Hetty was whipped so many times that Sarah wasn't sure she was going to survive.
  • Sarah and Angelina Grimké both developed a dislike for slavery, and in 1819 both moved to Philadelphia and joined the Society of Friends - A Quaker organization that regarded all humans as equal. This society also played a prominent role in the Anti-Slavery Society.
Angelina and Sarah Grimké
  • Angelina Grimké had a letter against slavery published by The Liberator in 1832. Sarah Grimké followed her example by publishing "An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States." Later on, in 1837, Sarah Grimké published "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes."
  • These pamphlets were publicly burned by South Carolina officials and the sisters were warned that they would be arrested if they ever returned home.
  • The two sisters, from an aristocratic slaveholding family, quickly became the first women who publicly fought for the black slave and for women's rights.
  • In 1838, the two sisters persuaded their mother to give them their share of the family's estate, including slaves, whom they immediately freed.

Letters on the Equality of the Sexes

Addressed to mary s. parker, president of the boston female anti-slavery society

In this text, Sarah controversially claims that the Bible has been falsely translated and misconceived by men. She goes on to argue, with a lot of biblical evidence, that the male sex has place women under their dominion since the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden. She claims that men and women were both born under God, and therefore only inferior to God.

"And God said, Let us not make man in our own image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female, created he them." (Genesis. 1:26-27)

"there is not one particle of difference intimated as existing between them. they wer eboth made in the image of god; dominion was given to both over every other creature, but not over each other." (Grimke, Letter 1)

Genesis 2:7-18

"The Lord god formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. and the lord god said, it is not good that man should be alone, i will make him an help meet for him."

Grimke then argues that women wasn't created to give man a creature susceptible of "loving, obeying, and looking up to him" because that what animals were for. She argues that women was created to be a companion, in all respects his equal.

Liberal Feminism

An individualistic form of feminist theory that focuses on women's ability to maintain equality through their own actions and choices. Liberal feminists believe that society holds that women are by nature, less intellectually and physically capable than men. Liberal feminists strive for sexual equality through political and legal reform.

"Had Adam tenderly reproved his wife, and endeavored to lead her to repentance instead of sharing in her guilt, I should be much more ready to accord to man that superiority which he claims -- there was as much weakness exhibited by Adam as by Eve. They both fell from innocence, and consequently from happiness, but not from equality." (Grimke, Letter 1)

Discussion Questions

  • Through the course of our readings, including women's voices like Catalina de Erauso, Ann Bradstreet, Abigail Adams, Mary Rowlandson, Eliza Wharton through Hannah Foster, and Grimké, how has the representation of women in society and literature changed? What distinguished the Grimké sisters from all of these other historical writers whom also sought equality for women?
  • Was the Grimké sisters publications against the impression of women insensitive to the black women abolitionists who were also fighting for equality? Could the oppression of women remotely compare to the oppression of slaves bound to slavery? Why or Why not?
  • Does Liberal Feminism act for women's equality without asserting the very differences that it seeks to deny? By associating religion with women's equality, what does Grimké succeed at arguing?
"The Emancipator" newspaper. Anti-slavery Newspaper talking about Grimké's controversial status and role in abolition and women's rights.
Created By
Alondra Pena


feminism, equality, letters on the equality of the sexes, grimke, angelina grimke, sarah grimke, history, american history, feminist

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