The following is a blog series based on my new daily habit: Reading one entry from “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” Not only are there all these bits of women’s history time has neglected, but within them are lessons that are super relevant to living a meaningful and productive life today. I want one of those. Don’t you? There are 200 entries, so consider yourself warned.
The Grimké Sisters DNGAF at a time when NGAF could ruin a woman’s life in no shortage
of ways. I’d already set these women on my shelf of revered feminists after reading “The Invention of Wings,” a fictionalized account of their lives as abolitionists and feminists by Sue Monk Kidd. A new theme about their story emerged for me, however, in their short (non-fictionalized) entry in “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” It turns out that one of the biggest audacities of their audacious lives was lecturing to same-sex audiences on abolitionism.
Yup. These two women did a bunch of dangerous things in their time on the abolitionist front — to the degree that they were banned from returning to their home state of South Carolina — but speaking publicly in front of men and women together is what really got the nation up in arms about them. How did it even happen, if such a thing was so taboo?
They had a really compelling story to tell. That no one else could tell.
The Grimkés had grown up the daughters of slave owners. So while there were white Northerners by the dozen who could lecture crowds on the secondhand horrors of slavery, these women had not only seen (and benefitted from) it themselves, they had abandoned the wealth and privilege slavery had afforded them in favor of risking their lives to work to abolish it. That was a perspective people were willing to make an extraordinary break with societal convention to hear.
Riots ensued. And fires. Including the burning of an orphanage for African American children. That was an admittedly awful, unjust response, and one that caused the Grimkés to back away from public speaking for the rest of their lives. Regardless, their experience makes one thing very clear: A compelling story has such power. How much, one can only find out by telling it.