Weld-Grimké family papers  1740-1930 (bulk 1825-1899)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Weld-Grimké family papers contain approximately 3,200 items spanning 1740 to 1930, with the bulk concentrated between 1825 and 1899 (14 linear feet total). They form a record of the lives of abolitionists Sarah Moore Grimké, Angelina Emily Grimké Weld, and Theodore Dwight Weld, and they offer insight into the lives of the Welds' children: Charles Stuart Faucheraud Weld, Theodore Grimké Weld, and Sarah Grimké Weld. The collection includes 2,889 letters, nearly 200 newspaper clippings, 16 diaries, 39 notebooks and other writings, a manuscript biography of Theodore Weld, 37 loose photographs, 2 photograph albums, 17 valentines, and 13 objects and ephemeral items. The papers are a valuable source of information on the major reform and political issues of the 19th century, and they provide extensive documentation on the personal lives and activities of the Weld and Grimké families. Although anti-slavery movements and abolitionism are central themes in the papers, the collection includes material on women's rights, the American Colonization Society, temperance, political philosophy, religious introspection and commentary, education, literature, health and dietary reform efforts, spiritualism, and a wide array of other subjects.

In June 2012, descendants of the Weld family donated 961 hitherto unresearched letters to the Library, which focus on Sarah M. Grimké, Angelina and Theodore Weld, and the Weld children and grandchildren between 1853 and 1900 (these letters are included in the quantities of items listed above). The 2012 acquisition has an emphasis on the legacy of the anti-slavery activists, women's rights activism, temperance, family dynamics and activities, physical and mental health, and education.

The Correspondence series spans 1740-1930 (bulk 1819-1900) and contains 2,985 items (seven linear feet). The correspondence is physically arranged in one chronological sequence, although the following summary is divided into two components: Letters acquired by the Clements Library before 2012 (1) and letters acquired as part of the 2012 addition (2).

1. Weld-Grimké family correspondence acquired by the Clements Library before 2012

Prior to 2012, the Weld-Grimké family papers included 2,024 letters, dating mostly between 1819 and 1900, and relating predominantly to the lives and activities of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina E. Grimké, Sarah M. Grimké, and their network of correspondents.

Theodore Weld received letters from an array of prominent anti-slavery activists, including the Grimké sisters, Lewis Tappan, Gerrit Smith, Elizur Wright, Jr., Beriah Green, James Armstrong Thome, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Lydia Maria Child, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Charles G. Finney, James Birney, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry B. Stanton, Sereno Wright Streeter, Theodore Erastus Clarke, Dioclesian Lewis, and Samuel Dorrance. Many letters document Weld's friendship and working relationship with Charles Stuart. Letters of Theodore's parents, siblings, and other family members are also present.

From approximately 1821 to 1836, letters pertaining to Weld refer to his early pursuit of a career in the ministry, his association with temperance, and his early anti-slavery activities. Weld and his correspondents discussed the Colonization Society, Weld's near drowning accident in the Alum River in 1832, and his attendance at the Oneida Institute, Lane Theological Seminary, and Oberlin College. In addition to his work as an itinerant speaker on behalf of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), incoming letters show that he received numerous requests to lecture at anti-slavery and temperance societies. His correspondence refers to threats of violence against abolitionists and sheds light on the activities of the AASS.

Weld's correspondence with the Grimké sisters began in 1837. His letters to and from the sisters, especially Angelina, primarily concern women's rights and abolition. Weld's attitude was frequently didactic, and his letters convey much advice to the sisters on becoming political activists. On February 8, 1838, Weld wrote a letter to Angelina declaring his love for her; most of the correspondence between this time and May 1838 revolves around their courtship and wedding. Their wedding certificate, dated May 14, 1838, is present in the collection's series of documents.

Correspondence from 1839 to 1844 is mainly concerned with Weld's publications, American Slavery As It Is andThe Anti-Slavery Almanack , as well as the Amistad court case in 1841. Correspondence with Angelina and Sarah during Weld's brief tenure in Washington, D.C, highlights his work with John Quincy Adams, Joshua Reed Giddings, and others in keeping the slavery question a subject of debate in Congress. The Welds' adoption of the "Graham diet" is discussed in letters of this period.

The years between 1845 and 1853 marked a time of transition for Weld as he began his career as a schoolmaster. Charles Stuart's letters to Weld indicate an increasingly strained friendship, and although Weld still corresponded with other abolitionists, fewer letters address the issue of slavery during the late 1840s and early 1850s. From 1854 to 1867, Weld corresponded mostly with his children. He also received many letters from former pupils, many of whom referenced their educations at Eagleswood. Letters from 1868 to 1895 revolve around the legacy of the abolition movement and family life. Weld began to receive letters from fellow aging abolitionists and their children, especially to offer condolences after the deaths of Sarah and Angelina.

Prior to the Clements Library's 2012 addition, the papers included over 500 letters by and over 250 letters to Sarah and Angelina Grimké. The sisters were introspective writers and typically sent detailed and lengthy letters to their friends and family members. This correspondence provides insight into major events in their lives, such as their struggles with religious identity, their speaking tour throughout Massachusetts in 1837, and the births of Angelina's children. They often discussed books they had read, such as Woman and Her Era by Eliza Wood Farnham, or public talks they had attended. Among their correspondents were Sarah M. Douglass, Jane Smith, Julia A. Tappan, Rachel and Mira Orum, Elizabeth Pease, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Smith Miller, Susan Wattles, Sarah Wattles, Augustus Wattles, Harriot Kezia Hunt, their brother Frederick Grimké, and others.

From 1825 to 1830, the sisters discussed and reflected extensively on religion. Letters during this period are especially pertinent to Angelina's religious conversions, first to the Presbyterian faith and later to Quakerism. Correspondence between 1831 and 1835 includes content on Society of Friends meetings and Angelina's encounters with Catherine Beecher. Thomas Smith Grimké and Hester Snowdon, a slave whom Angelina had known in Charleston, also wrote letters in the later 1820s.

Between 1835 and 1837, the Grimké correspondence documents the beginnings of the sisters' involvement in the anti-slavery movement. Several items refer to Angelina's published letter to William Lloyd Garrison and others pertain to her bookAppeal to the Christian Women of the South . The majority of letters written in 1837 and 1838 concern abolitionism and women's rights issues, highlighting the difficulties Angelina and Sarah encountered as female abolitionists and public figures. Some of the correspondents with whom the sisters discussed these issues include Sarah L. Forten, Sarah M. Douglass, Henrietta Sargent, Theodore Weld, Jane Smith, and Elizabeth Pease.

Angelina and Sarah received 16 letters from their mother, Mary Smith Grimké, in 1838 and up to her death in 1839. The letters reveal the sisters' continued involvement in abolition, especially the time they spent conducting research forAmerican Slavery As It Is . Motherhood, domesticity, and Angelina's children were frequent topics of discussion, especially from 1839 to 1847. Between 1848 and 1863, Sarah exchanged two dozen letters with physician and women's rights advocate Harriot Kezia Hunt; Frederick Grimké; and Augustus, Susan, and Sarah Wattles. In addition to discussing abolition and women's rights issues, they also wrote about spiritualism, religion, politics, and other intellectual topics.

2. 2012 Addition to the Weld-Grimké Family Papers correspondence

The 961 letters from the Clements Library's 2012 acquisition span 1853 to 1899, with the bulk dating between 1862 and 1899. The addition is comprised primarily of the incoming correspondence of Angelina and Theodore Weld's daughter Sarah Grimké Hamilton (neé Weld) and her daughter, Angelina Grimké Hamilton, in whose wooden trunk the papers were preserved. At least 75 different writers contributed to the newly discovered body of letters; the most prolific correspondents include Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld, Sarah Moore Grimké, William Hamilton, Charles Stuart Weld, and Anna Harvell Weld. The Weld children also corresponded with their parents' associates, including Lucy Stone, James Armstrong Thome, and Henry B. Blackwell. This correspondence is largely family-focused, with content on race relations, women's rights, temperance, and the legacy of the anti-slavery activists and movements. Please note that the following numbers of letters attributed to individuals in this section only include those from the collection's 2012 acquisition.

Theodore Dwight Weld wrote approximately 180 letters between 1857 and 1893. He wrote to his daughter Sarah and granddaughter Angelina Hamilton extensively, offering advice on education, reassurance about Sarah's intellectual development, news about his activities and current events, family and financial matters, and recollections of his younger days. He referenced major sociopolitical issues of the time, such as women's suffrage and temperance (with content on the Woman's Christian Temperance Union). Weld wrote about and provided updates on many family members and friends, including the Shepards, the Birneys, Archibald Grimké, Francis Grimké, Charles Stuart Weld, Anna Harvell Weld, William Hamilton, Angelina Hamilton, and Angelina Grimké Weld.

Notable letters include:

  • Series of five letters related to his 1862-1863 lecture tour, including a November 23 letter respecting his speech at Boston's Music Hall. Following the lecture, Senator Charles Sumner thanked Weld profusely for his The Power of Congress Over the District of Columbia (1838) and remarked on recent interviews with President Lincoln over the subject of emancipation. His letter to Sarah Weld dated [November] 24, 1862, contains remarks on a visit with John Greenleaf Whittier.
  • May 20, 1863: Mentions a combat injury sustained by James G. Birney's son David Bell Birney ("All the Birneys were in the thick of the fight at Chancellorsville").
  • His letters addressed the ill-will that developed between Sarah and her sister-in-law, Anna Harvell Weld. Theodore Weld's remarks on the relationship and his efforts to understand the tension may be found especially in his letters of April 30, 1877; February 23, 1883; and July 12, 1890.
  • January 26, 1880: Discusses his lectures on women's suffrage.
  • January 6, 1883: Reflects on the death of Mary Anna, with remarks on the emancipation of "Aunty Betsey Dawson" in the 1820s and on Mary Anna's moral courage and self-sacrifice.
  • July 25, 1885: Reassures his pregnant daughter, who had expressed fears about dying in childbirth.

Angelina E. Grimké Weld's approximately 260 letters date from 1857 to 1878 (over 170 of them undated). She sent the majority of them to her daughter Sarah or granddaughter Angelina ("Nina"). The primary topics of conversation included food, housekeeping and home renovations, visiting lecturers, financial matters, health concerns, and politics. She also supplied news about Samuel Chace, Archibald Grimké, William Hamilton, Angelina Hamilton, Anna Harvell, the Haskells, the Mosleys, Gerrit Smith's family, the Philbricks, Charles Stuart Weld, Theodore Dwight Weld, and Theodore Grimké Weld.

Angelina Weld provided her daughter with motherly support, shown, for example, by an undated letter (January 20). In it, she addressed Sarah Weld Hamilton's concerns that "little Nina" showed preference to her father William Hamilton, by describing the jealousy she [Angelina] sometimes felt toward her sister Sarah M. Grimké, whom she recognized as having a closer relationship with Angelina Weld's children than they had with their mother. Angelina assured her daughter that she understood her feelings--and that Angelina felt relief when Sarah Moore Grimké moved out of their household.

Angelina Weld wrote multiple letters about the presidential election of 1876, including a compelling discussion of President Hayes' Cabinet and the appointment of Frederick Douglass as Marshall of the District of Columbia. On the latter, she remarked that it must have been hard "for the Democrats to swallow this, and yet I suppose as politicians the hope of the Colored vote to help them into office in future" was a factor in Douglass' confirmation. She believed that the strife of party politics would ultimately work to resolve "the most difficult problem of our day," the reconciliation of the black and white races (March 18, [1877]).

Sarah Moore Grimké's letters to her niece Sarah Weld (later Hamilton), number roughly 100 and span 1853 to 1869 (bulk 1862-1869). Her letters to Sarah offer a glimpse into their relationship, in which Aunt Sarah demonstrated a deep interest in her niece's life, offering educational advice (see for example her undated letter in which she encouraged her niece to pursue courses that would lead to a diploma), expressing concern for Sarah's physical and mental well-being, and discussing her niece's financial concerns/school expenses. Sarah M. Grimké also kept her niece abreast of family news, including details about the mental health struggles of "Sodie"/"Sody" (Theodore Grimké Weld) and the family's efforts to "cure" him (see especially June 10, 1863, and August 22, 1875). She also discussed literature (including Les Miserables in three letters in 1862 and 1863) and politics. Sarah M. Grimké provided updates on and news about Theodore Grimké Weld, the Birneys, Gerritt Smith, Lucy McKim Garrison, Charles Stuart Weld, and Julia Tappan.

Sarah Moore Grimké sent two letters to her niece and nephews while in Washington, D.C., 1853-1854:

  • [December 26, 1853 or January 2, 1854?], to Sarah, Charles, and Theodore G. Weld: Offers vivid descriptions of the Capitol building, the Senate and House chambers, and the U.S. Supreme Court. She informed her niece and nephews that she sat in the Chief Justice's chair and proclaimed that perhaps a woman would someday occupy the seat--an act that "amused" her companions. She described the John Trumbull paintings in the Capitol rotunda and noted that the empty alcove would be suitable for another once the slaves were emancipated.
  • [March 3, 1854?], to Sarah Weld: Comments that she will be leaving the city soon, but has not yet visited Mount Vernon. She reconciles herself by noting that "although [George] Washington may have done right in his day, yet his achievements in the cause of liberty are connected with cruelty & slaughter, and fail to inspire the mind with that sacred feeling of reverence, which we experience in contemplating the characters of Howard & Fry, of Oberlin and Chisolm." She then describes an incident in which a tall, stalwart, and fiercely angry white man dragged a young African American boy onto the Capitol yard in order to beat him for an alleged verbal slight. Following Sarah Grimké's intervention, which prevented the battery, she followed the aggressor long enough to witness him greeting a young child with great tenderness and affection. The lesson of the experience, she informed her niece and nephews, was that "we are two beings just as the evil or the good spirit has possession of us...let us try to be always under the influence of the good."

Sarah Weld Hamilton's letters, about 120 in total, address women's rights and writing submissions to serials including the Independent (1869-early 1870s), her relationship with William Hamilton and her parents' disapproval of him (see especially October 28, 1869, and June 13, 1871), religion, and temperance. She later wrote about child rearing, family matters, visits to Cambridge and Boston (see especially October 21, 1891, in which she reminisces at length about her youth). Sarah included updates on and anecdotes about the Badger family, William Hamilton, Mary Livermore, the Blackwell family, her parents, Julia Ward Howe and her daughter Laura, "Lizzie" [Elizabeth A. L. Cram], Lucy Shepard, Thomas Hill, and Lucy Stone. Selected examples include:

  • November 29, 1869, to William Hamilton: Explanation of her views on women's roles, firmly stating her belief that women should be able to support themselves and not be dependent upon their husbands.
  • January 16, 1870, to William Hamilton: Description of Sarah Weld's responsibilities and fellow workers at the Woman's Journal office.
  • March 6, 1870, to William Hamilton: Mention of an "octogenarian Grimké" at a women's meeting and a reevaluation of her initial impressions of Julia Ward Howe.
  • March 13, 1870, to William Hamilton: Description of voting at Hyde Park with a group of women and the reactions of the men present. In her subsequent letters to William Hamilton, she remarks that he probably views the act as "play-voting," and offers her perspectives on the women's rights movement.
  • October 6-31, 1891, to Angelina Hamilton: Eight letters to her daughter while visiting Cambridge, Boston, and Hyde Park, with her father Theodore D. Weld. She offered lengthy recollections of her youth and discussed meetings with children and grandchildren of her parents' friends (Smiths, Wrights, Badgers, Garrisons, et al.), and provided explanations to help her daughter contextualize the information.

William Hamilton wrote about 40 letters between 1870 and 1899, primarily about his health, his wife Sarah's health and death, his daughter Angelina, and his work in various educational and occupational endeavors (ministry, law, trade, and lumbering). Of particular note are his letters to Sarah written while conducting business both in and around Washington D.C. A few examples include:

  • July 14, 1870 to Sarah Hamilton: discusses his recurring/continual health problems, which the doctor diagnosed as a disease "of a nervous character."
  • August 10, 1872-September 13, 1872, to Sarah Weld Hamilton: Twelve letters to his wife respecting travel and a visit to Washington, D.C., and his return trip to Boston. He described the city in detail, discussing government buildings, the city layout, and General Lee's house. He provided commentary on the presidential contest between Horace Greeley and incumbent president Ulysses S. Grant. On August 29, he noted: "the little I am able to gather about politics here, is that the Negroes are very nearly a unit for Grant--that the old Virginians are all nearly for Greeley and that more recent inhabitants are variously disposed."
  • November 6, 1898, to Angelina Hamilton: Discusses Angelina's ethical and spiritual concerns as they relate to practicing as a physician. Offers advice about the dangers of professional rivals, citing Dr. Luella Day as an example.
  • January 28, 1899-February 3, 1899, to Angelina Hamilton: Four letters respecting the final sickness ("brain hemorrhage" followed by a coma), death, and funeral of her mother.

Charles Stuart Faucheraud Weld's 10 letters date from 1868 to 1895 and primarily revolve around his duties/role as a son and brother. He wrote about US-European finance, Unitarianism and Dwight L. Moody, his aging parents' health, his efforts to help his brother Theodore engage with others, the death of Theodore D. Weld, and current writing. Charles Weld's wife Anna Harvell Weld sent approximately 50 letters between 1877 and 1895, and was a main source of news for Sarah Hamilton regarding the well-being of Sarah's father, Theodore Dwight Weld, and brother, Theodore G. Weld. Her correspondence also reflects the growing tension that existed between Sarah and herself. A later source of conflict was Sarah Weld Hamilton's desire to write a book about her father's life and her accompanying quest for supporting materials. Anna Harvell Weld also discussed Francis Grimké, Archibald Grimké, Theodore Dwight Weld, Theodore Grimké Weld, and Charles Stuart Weld. Examples of Anna Weld's letters include:

  • July 27, 1889, to William Hamilton: Asking for his assistance in stopping Sarah from writing a book about Theodore D. Weld.
  • February 12, 1890, to Sarah Hamilton: Anna tells Sarah that Theodore Dwight Weld does not want a book written about him.
  • February 16, 1892, to Sarah Hamilton: If someone is going to write about Theodore D. Weld, it should be his nephew, Archibald.
  • [postmarked February 3, 1894] to William Hamilton: Discussing Sody's living arrangements. Anna remarks that since Angelina Weld's death, no one has had control over Sody. She doesn't fully agree with sending him to an asylum and had hoped that William and Sarah Hamilton would take him. She refers to Sarah's claim that Sody had made an inappropriate advance towards Sarah, which Anna believes is either a misinterpretation or a faulty memory.

Angelina Grimké Hamilton wrote approximately 30 letters between 1878 and 1899, offering insight into her education and work towards becoming a physician. Her letters pertain to childhood activities, food, family, medical duties/work, and school. Of particular note are the letters she sent between December 9, 1892, and December 16, 1896, to Sarah, William, and Nettie Hamilton. In them, Angelina wrote about her time at Hahnemann Medical College and subsequent internship. She discussed her classes and clinical work, which included dressing a scalded arm, giving children vaccinations, and tending to a sprained ankle. She briefly mentioned visits to the Art Institute (March 5, 1893) and the Columbian Exhibition (February 19, 1893).

In 1868, the Grimké sisters discovered that they had nephews living in Washington, D.C. Although the Weld-Grimké Family Papers do not contain any letters by Archibald or Francis Grimké, the correspondence does include many references to their education, activities, careers, and families. A few examples include:

  • July 31, 1868, Sarah Moore Grimké to Sarah Weld: Reference to her "newly found" nephews.
  • January 12, 1876, Theodore D. Weld to William and Sarah Hamilton: Brief remarks on Archibald Grimké's admission to the bar: "Mr. B. prophesies that A. will soon attain a position that few lawyers secure when so young. When he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court on motion of Mr. Sewall, he was warmly welcomed. One of the prominent lawyers, Mr. Shattuck took him by the hand and said 'Mr. Grimke welcome to our fraternity. From what I hear of you, I doubt not that you will be an honor to the Boston bar.'"
  • March 28, 1880, and May 1, 1880, Theodore D. Weld to Sarah Weld Hamilton: Remarks on the birth of Angelina Weld Grimké (NB: who would become a prominent writer, poet, and activist for African American rights in the 20th century).
  • February 23, 1883, Theodore D. Weld to Sarah Hamilton: Lengthy description of Francis Grimke's recent week-long visit, his sermon at the Orthodox Church, his Presbyterian congregation in Washington, D.C., and other subjects.
  • April 26, 1885, Theodore D. Weld to Sarah Hamilton: Theodore is the only person that has complete information about the departure of Archibald Grimké's wife Sarah Stanley and their daughter Angelina, outside the parties directly involved. While not at liberty to reveal much detail, Theodore provides Sarah with his perspectives on the separation.

The Diaries series contains 16 diaries: Nine by Sarah Grimké, seven by Angelina Grimké, and one by Louis Weld. Sarah's diaries date from 1819 to 1836 and they contain poetry, copies of Bible passages, and her thoughts on religion and marriage. She also reflected on women's issues, on her experiences as a Quaker, and about her daily experiences. Angelina's diaries date from 1828 to approximately 1835 and record her struggles with her transition between the Presbyterian and Quaker faiths, her relationship with Sarah, her reasons for opposing slavery, and her courtship with Edward Bettle, who died of cholera in 1832.

The Notebooks and Writings series consists of essays, lecture notes, and 39 notebooks kept by various members of the Weld-Grimké family. Theodore Weld's essays cover a diversity of subjects, including the oppression of women, Shakespeare's works, William Lloyd Garrison, abolition, and subjects related to political philosophy. Approximately eight notebooks belonging to Sarah are also in the collection; these include essays on women's political rights, the education of women, and the status of women in society. Her essays, "Sisters of Charity" and "The Condition of Woman" are some of the notebooks with titles. The series also includes Angelina's lecture notes and several undated autobiographical essays by Weld and his children. Of particular note is a biography of Weld written on 22 notepads by his daughter Sarah Grimké Weld Hamilton.

The Photographs series contains loose images in multiple photographic formats, including 18 cartes de visite, 17 cabinet cards, 5 developing out prints, 1 card mounted photograph, and 1 quarter-plate daguerreotype of the Weld-Grimké family by Greenleaf Weld. Also present are a Weld family album of cartes de visite and a photo album related to Eagleswood Academy, containing cartes de visite and tintypes.

The Printed Items series is made up of nearly 200 newspaper clippings, pamphlets, broadsides, and cards. The clippings mainly pertain to the topics of slavery and the abolition movement, although some also concern women's rights and the legacies of Theodore Weld and the Grimké sisters. Also included are family members' obituaries, including those of Sarah Moore Grimké.

The Realia and Ephemera series contains several linear feet of three-dimensional objects associated with the Weld-Grimké family, including hair, Chinese ivory sewing box (gift of Benjamin Grimké), a cameo brooch, Angelina's eyeglasses and case, a silver Addison watch, a quilt presented by Eagleswood students, and a pocketknife belonging to Theodore Weld, a Chinese fan, a silhouette of Angelina G. Weld, and 17 elegant hand-cut valentines. Most of the items date to the mid-19th century.

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a comprehensive writer index, which identifies letters acquired by the Clements Library in 2012 and letters published in Barnes and Dumond: Weld-Grimké Family Papers Writer Index.

Show all series level scope and content notes