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Angelina Grimke & Catharine Beecher
Angelina Grimke’s public appeal for the institution of the human rights of all moral beings is ultimately superior to Catharine Beecher’s doctrine of female supremacy limited to the domestic sphere. Both women are visionaries of their era offering contrasting views of women’s proper place in society as well as their moral duties. History has proven that Grimke is unwaveringly the contest winner of this debate . Compelling reasons for Grimke’s historical success can be seen in the women’s differing contextual arguments, the effective use of rhetorical mediums, and the personal embodiment of beliefs.
Angelina E. Grimke’s Letters to Catharine Beecher is a contrasting response to Beecher’s Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism, which was addressed to Grimke herself. Specifically, Angelina’s 12th and 13th letters serve as a fervent vehicle for which Grimke meticulously counters Beecher’s affirmations of woman’s societal subordination. Grimke wrote the letters “because of a ‘deep and tender interest’ for the ‘present and eternal welfare’ of ‘Sisters in Chris’ whose eyes were closed to the Law” .
Although Grimke addresses her letters to Beecher, her intended audience includes every American, regardless of gender, race, or social status that may come in contact with her publishing or be touched by it in any manner. By 1837, Grimke had gained significant clout from both the reverence and contempt of her followers and critics. She stood as a dedicated abolitionist who broke down multiple barriers for the advancement of women’s rights and moral social change. Catharine Beecher’s Essay sets out to rationalize women’s submissive role by claiming a rigid, social hierarchy- divinely instituted- placing men above women.
She argues that women should only influence society through the activities of their separate, domestic sphere. Like Grimke, she ultimately sought to benefit American society through moral reform, but through different means. Angelina Grimke gains historical influence in part by her ability to appeal to the emotional intellect of feminine nature through her faithful articulation and egalitarian interpretation of the Bible. Angelina appeals to the intuitive dispositions of her female audience by imploring that they lift their voices to demand their basic human rights as moral creatures.
She effectively argues that, “all humans, through liberation from sin by Christ’s gift of grace, have the same moral nature and, as a result, the same rights in religious and civil life” . It is woman’s sacred duty to exercise a political and public voice. Grimke uses the Bible to respond to Beecher’s claim of man as the superior sex. She writes, “Did Jesus then, give a different rule of action to men and women? ” She quotes Scripture by stating: “said God, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…they shall prophesy” .
She calls on women to have faith in their struggles, “the disciples of Jesus were to walk by faith, not by sight. Did Abraham reason as to the probable results of his offering up Isaac? No! ” . She passionately asserts that women suffer from “a violation of human rights…a violent seizure and confiscation of what is sacredly and inalienably hers” . She even effectively addresses the “clash between biology and religion” in the creation story. The formation of woman out of Adam’s rib serves as direct evidence that she is a part of him, made by his side so that she may be his companion and equal, “the last best gift of God to man” .
Angelina’s open analysis and concise presentation of Scripture is a significant factor in her success. Grimke’s ability to invoke passionate response and appeal to thousands of people is based in the powerful combination of literacy and speech. In her literature, Angelina is very succinct and analytical, using the far-reaching hands of the press to access all of society. Her writings appeal to logical and educated minds, stating accepted foundations for her convictions: the truths of the Bible and the Declaration of Independence.
As David McCants writes, “The principle of absolute human equality, which she believed was a biblical doctrine and with which she challenged the gender doctrine of male and female spheres, is essential” to her effectiveness. Angelina also used her voice to spread her message by making an emotional connection with her audiences. Her followers could relate to her sincerity as well as observe the “unusual religious inspiration in her speaking” . This tool of public speech also aided her cause in the form of visible opposition to her lectures.
By combining the mediums of literacy and speech, Angelina Grimke could not be ignored. These two means of rhetorical persuasion proved to be a powerful language in her commitment to social reform. Another factor of Angelina’s progress is the radical nature of her arguments and the generation of loud opposition. “Success raises up opponents” . Angelina Grimke represented the most radical and controversial themes of her time. Not only was she a female Southern abolitionist and a champion of women’s suffrage, she publically proclaimed her contentious ideas to the masses.
The very idea of “speaking to mixed audiences was a social taboo” . Women did not speak publically, certainly on political issues; these matters were seen to be too far above them. Angelina’s public response to Beecher and various other conservative opponents provoked dismay as she “extended the scope of [her] commentary beyond a simple defense”…and proved it to be “a powerful offensive on woman’s rights” . Her offense may have initiated opponents to “attack her for her radicalism and extremist views” , but the notion of her successful preaching cannot be denied.
Controversy only sustained Angelina’s prophetic conviction. Angelina stands out as a transcendent proponent for social reform because she emphatically integrates her doctrine into her personal life; she entirely exemplifies the principles for which she believes. Born into an esteemed Southern family, Angelina experienced the evils of slavery while growing up on her family’s plantations. Although she legally belonged to a slaveholding estate, she personally always rejected the ownership of slaves.
Grimke left the Episcopalian church to become a Presbyterian in 1826 after experiencing a spiritual awakening and personal revelation of the truths of the gospel. Yet two years later, she converted once again to the Quaker church because in “her mind only Quaker understanding of the doctrine was scriptural” . Angelina responded with conviction to her calling of piteous moral discipline and the search for Christian perfectionism. The conversion to the Quaker called for a more simplistic, modest, and identifiable attire.
The allusions to biblical dress allowed for Grimke to “justify [her] own public activity by likening it to that of loved heroic women of the Bible” . This practice afforded her credibility as well as “some reassure of respect and safety to a space where women’s words could be taken seriously in their movement toward a new place for women” . Another way Grimke lived out her principles was in her courtship and marriage to Theodore Dwight Weld. Weld “knew that Angelina could not fully commit to him until she was convinced that theirs would be a singularly uncommon marriage: a feminist marriage, a union of equals” .
Her strong spiritual, emotional, and intellectual connection with Weld even had the consequences of her disownment from the Quaker church. Still, Angelina did not question her faith or personal convictions. She was unwavering in her private dedication to moral righteousness and the establishment of relationships of equals on purely human terms. On the other side of Angelina Grimke’s success is Catharine Beecher’s ultimate failure to manifest her doctrine in American history. She was unable to effectively advocate her values and gain the support needed for her ideal reformation.
Beecher sends a conflicting message between her notion that women may only act and influence upon their private, domestic sphere and her personal defiance of this proclamation exemplified by her openly published literature. Her platforms of the modernization of women’s role in the home as a professionally trained schoolteacher seem to “carve out what certainly must be considered a “public” niche for herself” and detract from her argument against the visibility of women . The contradiction lies in how Beecher is supposed to publically reject the speaking role of women in an effective and persuasive manner.
The publication of her “private letter” to Grimke does not serve as sound example. Despite her belief that women should remain in the domestic sphere, Catharine’s life was centered outside of the home. She engaged in strong advocacy of greater educational opportunities for women in order to challenge their intellectual abilities. The paradox between her personal life and her view concerning women’s proper role in society is further exaggerated by her unwed status and the professionalism of her literature. Beecher rationalized a feminine teaching body as a lengthening of one’s maternal role.
This peculiar mode of “gaining influence and of exercising power” to be secluded in the domestic sphere calls for the intellectual, moral, and religious education of the nation’s children . She asserts that the rise and fall of the nation depends on the virtues, intelligence, and piety of the female sex . Yet the nature of higher education and expansion of knowledge calls for public rhetoric. Beecher suggests that females are inherently and fundamentally responsible for the collective success or failure of society through their instructive influence on the private sphere.
This disheartening conclusion leaves no wonder why women were not compelled to support this propaganda. Catharine limits the scope of her own influence by binding women to one sphere in society. In doing so, she subsequently devalues female intellect and limits their potential. The seclusion of female action in the domestic sphere contests the influence of the early female Christian martyrs, the sanctity of Biblical women in public stations, and the benevolence of the former female ascetics who served as public ministers.
Beecher’s concurrence with the early nineteenth-century social attitudes ordering male and female roles according to spheres and virtues limits women’s charitable endeavors, cultural influence, and creative knowledge. They are instructed to perfect society, but are given inadequate resources to do so. In order for her work to become as universal and historic as Angelina Grimke’s, Beecher must to appeal to the aspirations of women and inspire unification toward a common purpose.
In this regard, among others, Angelina Grimke’s call for an egalitarian forum in which new ideas are celebrated and social barriers are eliminated wins out at the forefront of nineteenth-century social and political reform. Although Grimke and Beecher represent opposing ideals in terms of women’s rights and societal reformation, they share some common ground. Both women were concerned with the well being of mankind and the desire for American women to be distinguished by their intelligence and influence on the interests of society.
They both recognize the importance of supportive female networks and the promotion of their creativity. This mission encourages women helping each other overcome the conflict between individual aspirations and cultural imperatives. As visionary enthusiasts of their time, both used a public platform to petition support and gain recognition for their causes. Although Beecher does appeals to a portion of society, her arguments, rhetoric, and personal conviction leave much to be desired.
Grimke’s unerring standard of equality on the grounds of human existence effectively challenged opposition, gained considerable recognition through her credibility and inspiration, and touched the hearts of a nation in desperate need of a radical social awakening. Works Cited Beecher, Catharine. Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with Reference to the duty of American Females. Salem: Ayer Company, Publishers, Inc. , 1988. Beecher, Catharine, Margaret Fuller, and M. Carey Thomas. The Educated Woman in America. New York: Teachers College Press, 1965.
Grimke, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The Public Years of Sarah and Angelina Grimke: Selected Writings 1835-1839. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Hobbs, Catherine. “Untitled. ” Review of Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination by Stephen Howard. Rhetoric Review, 2001. Isenberg, Nancy. “Untitled. ” Review of Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 by Catherine A. Brekus. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2000. Lerner, Gerda. “The Grimke Sisters and the Struggle Against Race Prejudice. The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Oct. , 1963), http://www. jstor. org/stable/2716330. Mattingly, Carol. “Friendly Dress: A Disciplined Use. ” Rhetoric Society Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2 (1999), http://www. jstor. org/stable/3886084. McCants, David A. “Evangelicalism and Nineteenth-Century Woman’s Rights: A Case Study of Angelina E. Grimke. ” Perspectives in Religious Studies 14 no. 1 (1987), http://ezp. lndlibrary. org/login? url=http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct=true=rfh=ATLA0000973238=ehost-live. Nelson, Robert K. ‘The Forgetfulness of Sex’: Devotion and Desire in the Courtship Letters of Angelina Grimke and Theodore Dwight Weld. ” Journal of Social History, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2004), http://www. jstor. org/stable/3790158. Phipps, William E. Adam’s Rib: Bone of Contention. ” Theology Today 33 no. 3 (1976), http://ezp. lndlibrary. org/login? url=http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct=true=rfh=ATLA0000757237=ehost-live. Sicherman, Barbara. “Review Essay: American History. ” Signs Vol. 1, No. 2 (1975), http://www. jstor. org/stable/3173057.