Written by Ana Tinoco and Hannah Wind
What is Abolitionist Feminism?
Abolitionist feminism is a form of feminism that stems from the 1800s. Abolitionist feminists hold the perspective that the women’s suffrage and liberation movement can draw parallels between their own movement and the abolitionist movements. The strategies and methods that abolitionists utilized to receive emancipation provided a model that feminists could use to achieve their goals. Author and feminist Sara Evans states in her essay “Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left” that the feminist movement has taken inspiration from the movement towards racial equality- first during “the abolition movement of the 1830s and again in the civil rights movement of the 1960s” (Humm 2003). Abolitionism encourages our society to look beyond surface-level issues, look at the core of the problem, and ask what structures and systems are in place that allow for these injustices to occur, and how can they be dismantled? Abolitionist feminists share a similar mindset. They believe that we as a society must analyze the issues that plague women, look to the core of those issues- the patriarchy- and take steps to disassemble it. In summation, abolitionist feminists are a group of individuals who held the belief that the feminist movement should follow the model that the abolitionists set in their movement toward equality.
Emphasis on intersectionality:
The abolitionist feminist movement places a large emphasis on the importance of intersectionality. Sarah Grimke, a renowned abolitionist and feminist, argued that “women had the same rights and duties as men and should be able to participate fully in education, religion, work, and politics—including the abolition movement” (Teach US History). Grimke, and many other abolitionist feminists, insisted that women, especially white women, must use their place in society to help contribute to the abolitionist movement. When there is unity between the two movements, the sharing of support and information is possible. It is the responsibility of these minority populations to uplift, support, and learn from one another in their pursuits of justice.
Angelina and Sarah Grimke: The Grimke Sisters
Angelina Grimke and Sarah Grimke, known as the Grimke sisters, were the first women to speak publicly about the controversial topic of anti-slavery beliefs and women’s rights. After experiencing firsthand the treatment of slaves when growing up on their family’s plantation, the sisters were pained to see the condition and treatment of slaves and empathize with black women. They believed that a bond could be formed amongst women despite their race since women in society are mistreated. The Grimke sisters worked to speak publicly to other White Southern women to emphasize the bigger battle to fight: the inequality of women. Though constantly exposed to violent and negative reactions from northern men who were angered by the sisters for publicly sharing their opinions on controversial topics and by southern men who were angered by their views on slavery, the sisters were not phased as they continued to write to convince Women to fight for the abolition of slavery for their sisters.
Source: Angelina Emily Grimké (1805–1879) (left) and Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873) (right). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The works of the Grimke Sisters
Angelina Grimke in the booklet “An Appeal to Women of Nominally Free States” emphasizes how White women will experience a “ multitudes of instances…in which you will have the opportunity of identifying yourselves with this injured class of our fellow beings”. By emphasizing how white women and Black women are more alike than some may realize, it helps to persuade the Women to fight for abolition and to use the ability that has been taken away from them in a male-dominated society: their voice. Like Angelina, Sarah Grimke wrote her booklet “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and Condition of the Women” with the same purpose of shining a light on persuading women to come together to abolish slavery because coming together with all Women will allow for the fight for women’s rights to be more successful. By saying, “Can any American woman look at these scenes of shocking licentiousness and cruelty, and fold her hands in apathy, and say, ‘I have nothing to do with slavery?’ She cannot and be guiltless.” She further emphasizes the connection that white women (both in the Northern and Southern states) have to Black women. Her purpose was to open Women’s eyes to see the battle of Abolition as something they too can take part in and that it is time for them to come together to fight for anti-slavery beliefs.
Eisenstein, Zillah R. Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution. Monthly Review Press, 2019.
Grimke Sisters. (2015, February 26,). National Park Service. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/grimke-sisters.htm
Grimke, A. (1838, An appeal to the women of the nominally free states. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from https://www.stolaf.edu/people/fitz/COURSES/Grimke1.htm
Grimké, S. M., 1792-1873. (1838, Letters on the equality of the sexes, and the condition of woman. Addressed to Mary S. Parker. Retrieved November 6, 2023, from https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/letters-on-the-equality-of-the-sexes-and-the-condition-of-women/
Humm, Maggie. The Dictionary of Feminist Theory. Edinburgh University Press, 2003.
Luebering, J. E. (2023, January 3,). Grimke Sisters. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Grimke-sisters
unknown, unknown. “Sarah Grimké Argues for Women’s Rights.” Sarah Grimké Argues for Women’s Rights | Teach US History www.teachushistory.org/second-great-awakening-age-reform/resources/sarah-grimke-argues-womens-rights.