Letters to Catherine Beecher
Angelina E. Grimke
Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1838



BROOKLINE, Mass. 8th mo. 28th, 1837.

  DEAR FRIEND: I come now to that part of thy book, which is, of all others, the most important to the women of this country; thy 'general views in relation to the place woman is appointed to fill by the dispensations of heaven.' I shall quote paragraphs from thy book, offer my objections to them, and then throw before thee my own views.

  Thou sayest, 'Heaven has appointed to one sex the superior, and to the other the subordinate station, and this without any reference to the character or conduct of either.' This is an assertion without proof. Thou further sayest, that 'it was designed that the mode of gaining influence and exercising power should be altogether different and peculiar.' Does the Bible teach this? 'Peace on earth, and good will to men, is the character of all the rights and privileges, the influence and the power of woman.' Indeed! Did our Holy Redeemer preach the doc-


trines of peace to our sex only? 'A man may act on Society by the collision of intellect, in public debate; he may urge his measures by a sense of shame, by fear and by personal interest; he may coerce by the combination of public sentiment; he may drive by physical force, and he does not overstep the boundaries of his sphere.' Did Jesus, then, give a different rule of action to men and women? Did he tell his disciples, when he sent them out to preach the gospel, that man might appeal to the fear, and shame, and interest of those he addressed, and coerce by public sentiment, and drive by physical force? 'But (that) all the power and all the conquests that are lawful to woman are those only which appeal to the kindly, generous, peaceful and benevolent principles? If so, I should come to a very different conclusion from the one at which thou hast arrived: I should suppose that woman was the superior, and man the subordinate being, inasmuch as moral power is immeasurably superior to 'physical force.'

  'Woman is to win every thing by peace and love; by making herself so much respected, &c. that to yield to her opinions, and to gratify her wishes, will be the free-will offering of the heart.' This principle may do as the rule of action to the fashionable belle, whose idol is herself; whose every attitude and smile are designed to win the admiration of others to herself; and who enjoys, with exquisite delight, the double-refined incense of flattery which is offered to her vanity, by yielding to her opinions, and gratifying her wishes, because they are hers. But to the humble Christian, who feels that it is truth which she


seeks to recommend to others, truth which she wants them to esteem and love, and not herself, this subtle principle must be rejected with holy indignation. Suppose she could win thousands to her opinions, and govern them by her wishes, how much nearer would they be to Jesus Christ, if she presents no higher motive, and points to no higher leader?

  'But this is all to be accomplished in the domestic circle.' Indeed! 'Who made thee a ruler and a judge over all?' I read in the Bible, that Miriam and Deborah, and Huldah, were called to fill public stations in Church and State. I find Anna, the prophetess, speaking in the temple 'unto all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.' During his ministry on earth, I see women following him from town to town, in the most public manner; I hear the woman of Samaria, on her return to the city, telling the men to come and see a man who had told her all things that ever she did. I see them even standing on Mount Calvary, around his cross, in the most exposed situation ; but He never rebuked them; He never told them it was unbecoming their sphere in life to mingle in the crowds which followed his footsteps. Then, again, I see the cloven tongues of fire resting on each of the heads of the one hundred and twenty disciples, some of whom were I women; yea, I hear them preaching on the day of Pentecost to the multitudes who witnessed the outpouring of the spirit on that glorious occasion; for, unless women as well as men received the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, what did Peter mean by telling them, 'This is that which was spoken by the


prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God,, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. . . . And on my servants and on my handmaidens, I will pour out in those days of my spirit; and they shall prophesy.' This is the plain matter of fact, as Clark and Scott, Stratton and Locke, all allow. Mine is no 'private interpretation,' no mere sectarian view.

  I find, too, that Philip had four daughters which did prophesy; and what is still more convincing, I read in the xi. of I. Corinthians, some particular directions from the Apostle Paul, as to how women were to pray and prophesy in the assemblies of the people—not in the domestic circle. On examination, too, it appears that the very same word, Diakonos, which, when applied to Phoebe, Romans xvi. 1, is translated servant, when applied to Tychicus, Ephesians vi. 21, is rendered minister. Ecclesiastical History informs us, that this same Phoebe was preeminently useful, as a minister in the Church, and that female ministers suffered martyrdom in the first ages of Christianity. And what, I ask, does the Apostle mean when he says in Phillipians iv. 3. 'Help those women who labored with me in the gospel'? Did these holy women of old perform all their gospel labors in 'the domestic and social circle'? I trow not.

  Thou sayest, 'the moment woman begins to feel the promptings of ambition, or the thirst for power, her aegis of defence is gone.' Can man, then, retain when be indulges these guilty passions? Is it woman only who suffers this loss?


  'All the generous promptings of chivalry, all the poetry or romantic gallantry depend upon woman's retaining her place as dependent and defenceless, and making no claims, and maintaining no rights, but what are the gifts of honor, rectitude and love.'

  I cannot refrain from pronouncing this sentiment as beneath the dignity of any woman who names the name of Christ. No woman, who understands her dignity as a moral, intellectual, and accountable being, cares aught for any attention or any protection, 'vouchsafed by the promptings of chivalry, and the poetry of romantic gallantry'? Such a one loathes such littleness, and turns with disgust from all such silly insipidities. Her noble nature is insulted by such paltry sickening adulation, and she will not stoop to drink the foul waters of so turbid a stream. If all this sinful foolery is to be withdrawn from our sex, with all my heart I say, the sooner the better. Yea, I say more, no woman who lives up to the true glory of her womanhood, will ever be treated with such practical contempt. Every man, when in the presence of true moral greatness, 'will find an influence thrown around him,' which will utterly forbid the exercise of 'the poetry of romantic gallantry.'

  What dost thou mean by woman's retaining her place as defenceless and dependent? Did our Heavenly Father furnish man with any offensive or defensive weapons? Was he created any less defenceless than she was? Are they not equally defenceless, equally dependent on Him? What did Jesus say to his disciples, when he commissioned them to preach the gospel?—'Behold, I send you forth as


SHEEP in the midst of wolves; be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.' What more could he have said to women?

  Again, she must 'make no claims, and maintain no rights, but what are the gifts of honor, rectitude and love.' From whom does woman receive her rights? From God, or from man? What dost thou mean by saying, her rights are the gifts of honor, rectitude and love? One would really suppose that man, as her lord and master, was the gracious giver of her rights, and that these rights were bestowed upon her by 'the promptings of chivalry, and the poetry of romantic gallantry,'—out of the abundance of his honor, rectitude and love. Now, if I understand the real state of the case, woman's rights are not the gifts of man—no! nor the gifts of God. His gifts to her may be recalled at his good pleasure—but her rights are an integral part of her moral being; they cannot be withdrawn; they must live with her forever. Her rights lie at the foundation of all her duties; and, so long as the divine commands are binding upon her, so long must her rights continue.

  'A woman may seek the aid of co-operation and combination among her own sex, to assist her in her appropriate offices of piety, charity,' &c. Appropriate offices! Ah! here is the great difficulty. What are they? Who can point them out? Who has ever attempted to draw a line of separation between the duties of men and women, as moral beings, without committing the grossest inconsistencies on the one hand, or running into the most arrant absurdities or the other?


  'Whatever, in any measure, throws a woman into the attitude of a combatant, either for herself or others—whatever binds her in a party conflict—whatever obliges her in any way to exert coercive influences, throws her out of her appropriate sphere.' If, by a combatant, thou meanest one who 'drives by physical force,' then I say, man has no more right to appear as such a combatant than woman; for all the pacific precepts of the gospel were given to him, as well as to her. If, by a party conflict, thou meanest a struggle for power, either civil or ecclesisastical, thirst for the praise and the honor of man, why, then I would ask, is this the proper sphere of any moral, accountable being, man or woman? If, by coercive influences, thou meanest the use of force or of fear, such as slaveholders and warriors employ, then, I repeat, that man has no more right to exert these than woman. All such influences are repudiated by the precepts and examples of Christ, and his apostles; so that, after all, this appropriate sphere of woman is just as appropriate to man. These 'general principles are correct,' if thou wilt only permit them to be of general application.

  Thou sayest that the propriety of woman's coming forward as a suppliant for a portion of her sex who are bound in cruel bondage, depends entirely on its probable results. I thought 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! or he could not have raised his hand against the life of his son; because in Isaac, he had been told, his seed should be called, seed in


whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. O! when shall we learn that God is wiser than man—that his ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts than our thoughts—and that 'obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams?' If we are always to reason on the probable results of performing our duty, I wonder what our Master meant by telling his disciples, that they must become like little children. I used to think he designed to inculcate the necessity of walking by faith, in childlike simplicity, docility and humility. But if we are to reason as to the probable results of obeying the injunctions to plead for the widow and the fatherless, and to deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, &c., then I do not know what he meant to teach.

  According to what thou sayest, the women of this country are not to be governed by principles of duty, but by the effect their petitions produce on the members of Congress, and by the opinions of these men. If they deem them 'obtrusive, indecorous and unwise,' they must not be sent. If thou canst consent to exchange the precepts of the Bible, for the opinions of such a body of men as now sit on the destinies of this nation, I cannot. What is this but obeying man rather than God, and seeking the praise of man rather than of God? As to our petitions increasing the evils of slavery, this is merely an opinion, the correctness or incorrectness of which remains to be proved. When I hear Senator Preston of South Carolina, saying, that 'he regarded the concerted movement upon the District of Columbia as


an attempt to storm the gates of the citadel—as throwing the bridge over the moat'—and declaring that 'the South must resist the danger in its inception, or it would soon become irresistible'—I feel confident that petitions will effect the work of emancipation, thy opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. And when I hear Francis W. Pickens, from the same State, saying in a speech delivered in Congress—'Mr. Speaker, we cannot mistake all these things. The truth is, the moral power of the world is against us. It is idle to disguise it. We must, sooner or later, meet the great issue that is to be made on this subject. Deeply connected with this, is the movement to be made on the District of Columbia. If the power be asserted in Congress to interfere here, or any approach be made toward that end, it will give a shock to our institutions and the country, the consequences of which no man can foretell. Sir, as well might you grapple with iron grasp into the very heart and vitals of South Carolina, as to touch this subject here.' When I hear these things from the lips of keen-eyed politicians of the South, northern apologies for not interfering with the subject of slavery, 'lest it should increase, rather than diminish the evils it is wished to remove' affect me little.

  Another objection to woman's petitions is, that they may 'tend to bring females, as petitioners and partisans, into every political measure that may tend to injure and oppress their sex.' As to their ever becoming partisans, i. e. sacrificing principles to power or interest, I reprobate this under all circumstances, and in both sexes. But I trust my sisters may al-


ways be permitted to petition for a redress of grievances. Why not? The right of petition is the only political right that women have: why not let them exercise it whenever they are aggrieved? Our fathers waged a bloody conflict with England, because they were taxed without being represented. This is just what unmarried women of property now are. They were not willing to be governed by laws which they had no voice in making; but this is the way in which women are governed in this Republic. If, then, we are taxed without being represented, and governed by laws we have no voice in framing, then, surely, we ought to be permitted at least to remonstrate against 'every political measure that may tend to injure and oppress our sex in various parts of the nation, and under the various public measures that may hereafter be enforced.' Why not? Art thou afraid to trust the women of this country with discretionary power as to petitioning? Is there not sound principle and common sense enough among them, to regulate the exercise of this right? I believe they will always use it wisely. I am not afraid to trust my sisters—not I.

  Thou sayest, 'In this country, petitions to Congress, in reference to official duties of legislators, seem, IN ALL CASES, to fall entirely without the sphere of female duty. Men are the proper persons to make appeals to the rulers whom they appoint,' &c. Here I entirely dissent from thee. The fact that women are denied the right of voting for members of Congress, is but a poor reason why they should also be deprived of the right of petition. If


their numbers are counted to swell the number of Representatives in our State and National Legislatures, the very least that can be done is to give them the right of petition in all cases whatsoever and without any abridgement. If not, they are mere slaves, known only through their masters.

  In my next, I shall throw out my own views with regard to 'the appropriate sphere of woman'—and for the present subscribe myself,

  Thy Friend,