Charlotte Forten Grimke
(1837-1914) Anti-Slavery Activist, Poet, Educator, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a prominent member of the famous Forten-Purvis family; activists for Black causes and civil rights. Her parents were Robert Bridges and Mary Woods Forten. Her father and his brother in law, Robert Purvis were key members of the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee, an antislavery, slave assistance network. Her mother worked in the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Grimke’s grandfather was James Forten, Sr., a successful abolitionist and sail maker in Philadelphia.
Grimke’s father sent her to Salem to attend the Higginson Grammar School; in 1854 she was the only non-white student out of 200. The Higginson school was known for emphasis in critical thinking founded in studying history, geography, drawing and cartography. After Higginson, she attended the Normal School in Salem. She loved to read; some of her favorites were Shakespeare, Milton, Margaret Fuller and William Wordsworth.She became a member of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society where she worked raising money, meeting with others and hearing other prominent speakers and writers of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Senator Charles Sumner. She also socialized with other famous anti-slavery proponents such as William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the Liberator; Wendell Philips, the orator and activists Maria Weston Chapman and William Wells Brown. Grimke became a teacher in 1856 due to financial difficulties. She taught at Epes Grammar School in Salem but after two years tuberculosis forced her to return to Philadelphia. The school promised her a position upon her return. While in Salem, her poetry talent emerged, her works published in various antislavery publications such as the Liberator and Anglo African magazine. At home, she became the first black teacher involved in the Civil War’s Sea Islands mission. In South Carolina, she touched many students and thoroughly enjoyed her work. She chronicled this time in her essays, “Life on the Sea Islands” which was published in Atlantic Monthly in the May and June issues of 1864.
She held national influence recruiting teachers in the late 1860’s and on July 3, 1873 she became one a clerk at the U.S. Treasury Department: she was one of 15 out of 200 candidates. She married Francis J. Grimke when she was 41 on December 19, 1878. He was a Presbyterian minister who graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Princeton Theological Seminary. They had one daughter, Theodora Cornelia in June of 1880 who died as an infant. She then aided her husband in his ministry and organized a women’s missionary group. Her husband became pastor at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. where she continued her civil rights efforts. Her last efforts were answering an Evangelist editorial, ” Relations of Blacks and Whites: Is There a Color Line in New England?” Her answer asserted that unlike the assertions of the author that Blacks were not prejudiced against, Black American did achieve over extraordinary odds and simply wanted fair and respectful treatment. Charlotte Forten Grimke died in 1914.