The Grimke Sisters and Transcendentalism

In order to understand how the Grimke sisters and the Transcendental movement were tied together, it is important to understand that Transcendentalism had originally been an ideology based in the belief that people, all people, were able to “transcend” and connect with the spiritual world beyond that of the physical. Each person’s soul was thought to be equal, with no division between who and who could not connect to the spiritual world. This basis is what led to the start of many social reform movements during its time, but as the ideology of transcendentalism grew and Ralph Waldo Emerson became its public face, it became more focused on/associated with the individual’s relationship with them self, rather than relations to society. While folks like George Ripley and Orestes Brownson were mostly invested in social reform to allow all individuals to reach their full potential, Emerson believed in focus and improvement of one’s self rather than other’s as it potentially served as a distraction from reaching one’s full potential and enlightenment. Emerson’s focus on the individual received much criticism from those who viewed it as egotistical and self-centered furthering this divide within the movement. This divergence is where the Grimke sisters’ tie to the ideology is loosened. The Grimke’s played an important part towards the abolition of slavery and liberation of women, helping to spark the conversation about about both movements.

images: (Sarah Grimke)

(Angelina Grimke)


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