Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Historical Silencing of Women

It may be hard to believe as we sit in the year 2012 that there was once a time when the mainstream opinion was that women should in no way call attention to themselves, speak freely, share their opinions, or gather to make change. But then again, perhaps it isn't so hard to believe considering the recent case of women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke being called “slut” and “prostitute” by talk show host Rush Limbaugh for speaking in favor of contraceptive mandates to the House of Representatives. And of course there was also State Representative Lisa Brown who was banned from speaking on the House floor for using the word “vagina” as she argued against anti-choice legislation.

Like these women of today, the Grimke sisters of the 1800’s were making waves, speaking out and being chastised because of their actions. Angelina and Sarah Moore Grimke grew up on a slave owning plantation in South Carolina but spoke out against both slavery and the exclusion of women from public life. Along with Lucretia Mott, they were influential in creating the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society in 1835.

In 1836, Angelina Emily Grimk√© wrote “ An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” which garnered so much interest that the sisters were invited to attend the Agents’ Convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York City. They were the only women among forty abolitionists. In May of 1837 they set out to lecture the women of New England about abolitionism.

The New England clergy was so angry that the Grimke sisters were bold enough to speak out that they issued a Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts to the Congressional Churches Under Their Care declaring that when a woman assumes the tone of a man as a public reformer her character becomes unnatural and threatens society as a whole.

Excerpt from the letter: