Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Philadelphia native Grimke was an abolitionist activist, writer, and educator.
A child of an activist Free Black family, Charlotte Forten Grimké was born in Philadelphia on August 17, 1837. She would become both an abolitionist and an advocate for the proper education for her fellow African Americans. Her Journal (1953) has become an important document in the history of the Abolitionist movement. Grimké died in 1914.
Charlotte Forten Grimké was born August 17, 1837, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Robert Bridges Forten, an abolitionist, and Mary Virginia Forten. On December 19, 1878, Charlotte married Francis James Grimké, a Presbyterian minister with whom she had a child. Her daughter Theodora Cornelia died in infancy.
Charlotte was privately educated until 1854, when she moved to Salem, Massachusetts, and attended the Salem Grammar School. Two years later, she obtained her teaching certificate and became a member of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society. While she was at the Salem school, she also began her most famous work, Journal (1953), which chronicled the abolitionist movement around the Civil War. Grimké was an abolitionist like her father. She wrote of racial discrimination against slaves and freed blacks and segregation. Though discrimination troubled Grimké, she used it as fuel to better herself. She wanted to prove that the black community was just as capable of being productive members of society as whites. She taught herself several languages, including German, Latin, and French. She became well-read in the classics and contemporary literature. After finishing grammar school, Grimké became a teacher at Epes Grammar School. She was the first African-American in Massachusetts to teach white students. Though she was accepted by the school, she left because of an illness.
After recovering from tuberculosis, Grimké asked her friend, the famous poet John Greenleaf Whittier, to write her a recommendation so that she could teach for the Port Royal Experiment, a school set up to educate former slaves. After the fall of the South, many plantation owners fled their lands but left their slaves. Eight thousand slaves were in need of education. Both the Union command and Grimké felt that this was a chance to prove how powerful education could be to former slaves. Charlotte taught at a small school on St. Helena Island. While there, she wrote “Life on the Sea Islands” (1864), an essay on her experiences. In May of 1864, she returned to Philadelphia, where she taught and wrote poetry. In 1878, she married Francis Grimké, a former slave, who became educated and graduated from Princeton University.
Charlotte Grimké died of a cerebral embolism in Washington, DC, in 1914.
Journal. New York: Dryden Press, 1953.
“Life on the Sea Islands.” Atlantic Monthly. May-June, 1864.
Erckmann, Emile. Madame Thérèse, or The Volunteers of “92. New York: Scribner, 1869. (translation)
Barnes, Sharon L. Grimké, Charlotte L. Forten (1837–1914). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Ed. Anne Commire. Vol. 6. Detroit: Yorkin Publications, 2002. 548-554. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Sep. 2011. “Grimké, Charlotte Forten.” American National Biography. John Garranty and Mark Corres, eds. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.