Sarah Grimke, along with her sister Angelina, were the first women in the United States to publicly argue for the abolition of slavery. Cultured and well educated, Sarah had gone north from South Carolina with her sister with firsthand knowledge of the condition of the slaves. In 1836 Angelina wrote a lengthy address urging all women to actively work to free blacks.
The sisters’ lectures elicited violent criticism because it was considered altogether improper for women to speak out on political issues. This made them acutely aware of their own oppression as women, which they soon began to address along with abolitionism. A severe split developed in the abolition movement, with some antislavery people arguing that it was the “Negro’s hour and women would have to wait.”
The Grimkes refused to accept this idea, insisting on the importance of equality for both women and blacks. Sarah became a major theoretician of the women’s rights movement, challenging all the conventional beliefs about a woman’s place. As to men, she demanded: “All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.”