The Weld-Grimké family papers contain approximately 2000 items spanning 1740 to 1930, with the bulk concentrated around 1825 to 1893. They form a comprehensive record of the lives of Sarah M. Grimké, Angelina E. Grimké Weld, and Theodore D. Weld. The collection includes letters, newspaper clippings, circulars, diaries, notebooks, essays, and miscellaneous items, which thoroughly document the family's involvement in several social reform movements, particularly the abolition of slavery. The papers are a good source of information on the major reform and political issues of the time, and also serve as a reliable source of familial correspondence for the Weld and Grimké families. In addition to covering a large time-span, the Weld-Grimké Family papers also encompass a wide array of subjects. Although abolition and the anti-slavery movement are central issues in the papers, the collection touches on the beginnings of the women’s rights movement, the American Colonization Society, temperance, political philosophy, religious introspection and commentary, education, literature, health and dietary reform efforts, and spiritualism.
The Correspondence series spans 1740-1889 and contains approximately four linear feet of material. The collection includes incoming letters to Theodore Weld from an array of prominent anti-slavery activists, including Lewis Tappan, Gerrit Smith, Elizur Wright, Jr., Beriah Green, James Armstrong Thome, Charles G. Finney, James Birney, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry B. Stanton, Sereno Wright Streeter, Theodore Erastus Clarke, Dioclesian Lewis, and Samuel Dorrance. Numerous correspondence items also document Weld's friendship and working relationship with Charles Stuart. Other letters are from his parents, his siblings, and the Grimké sisters.
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 activities in the anti-slavery movement. His discussions with other abolitionists on the Colonization Society are also present. Important events in his life are mentioned, such as his 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 being 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 letters often mention the threats of violence that abolitionists experienced, and some shed light on the activities of the AASS.
Weld’s correspondence with the Grimké sisters begins in 1837. His letters to and from the sisters, especially Angelina, primarily concern the issues of 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 also included in the collection.
Correspondence from 1839 to 1844 is mainly concerned with Weld’s publications, American Slavery As It Is and The Anti-Slavery Almanack, as well as the Amistad court case in 1841. Also included is a small amount of correspondence with Angelina and Sarah during Weld's brief tenure in Washington, D.C. In these letters, he highlights his work with John Quincy Adams, Joshua Reed Giddings, and others in keeping the slavery question a subject of debate in Congress. Weld's interest in the “Graham diet” also becomes apparent through his letters of this time.
The years between 1845 and 1853 marked a time of transition for Weld as he began his career as a schoolmaster. His letters from Charles Stuart indicate an increasingly strained friendship, and although he still corresponded with other abolitionists, fewer letters address the issue of slavery during this time period. From 1854 to 1867, much of Weld’s correspondence was with his children. He also received numerous letters from former pupils, many of whom fondly referenced their educations at Eagleswood. Letters from 1868 to 1895 revolve around the legacy of the abolition movement and family life. While Weld continued to receive letters from former students, several aging abolitionists and their children also wrote to him, especially to offer condolences after the deaths of Sarah and Angelina.
Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s correspondence is not only plentiful, but also markedly introspective; they typically wrote detailed and lengthy letters to their friends and family members. These letters provide insight into major events in their lives, such as their struggles with religious identity, their famous speaking tour throughout Massachusetts in 1837, and the birth of Angelina’s children. They often discussed various books they had read, such as Woman and her Era by Eliza Wood Farnham, or public talks they had attended. Among their correspondents are 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, and their brother Frederick Grimké, among others.
From 1825 to 1830, the correspondence of Angelina and Sarah mainly revolves around religious discussion and reflection. Letters during this period are especially pertinent to Angelina’s religious conversions, first to the Presbyterian faith and later to Quakerism. Letters written between 1831 and 1835 discuss Society of Friends meetings and Angelina’s encounters with Catherine Beecher in particular detail. Thomas Smith Grimké and Hester Snowdon, a slave whom Angelina had known in Charleston, also wrote letters during this period.
Between 1835 and 1837, the Grimké correspondence documents the beginnings of the sisters' involvement in the anti-slavery movement. Several items mention Angelina’s published letter to William Lloyd Garrison and others pertain to her book, Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. The vast majority of the letters written in 1837 and 1838 concern the abolition movement 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 many letters from their mother, Mary Smith Grimké, during 1838 and up to her death in 1839. The letters reveal the sisters' continued involvement in abolition, especially their time spent doing research for American Slavery as it is. Motherhood, domesticity, and Angelina's children are frequent topics of discussion, especially from 1839 to 1847. Between 1848 and 1863, Sarah exchanged many letters with Harriot Kezia Hunt, a physician and women’s rights advocate; 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.
The latest letters in the series are primarily to and from the children of Angelina and Theodore Weld, particularly Charles Stuart Weld. Charles wrote on such topics as French and Romanian history, Napoleon III, and the Panama and Suez canals.
The Diaries series contains 16 diaries: 9 by Sarah Grimké and 7 by Angelina Grimké. Sarah’s diaries range from 1819 to 1836. They contain poetry, copies of Bible passages, and her thoughts on religion and marriage. In her entries, she also reflected on women’s issues and on her experiences as a Quaker, and provided some information 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 various 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 Women” are some of the notebooks with titles. The series also comprises Angelina's lecture notes, as well as several undated autobiographical essays by Weld and his children. Of particular note is a biography of Weld written on 22 notepads, likely in the hand of his daughter Sarah.
The Visual Materials series contains graphic materials representing several photographic formats, including cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, developing out prints, daguerreotypes, and tintypes. Included are a Weld family album of cartes-de-visite, a photo album of students from Eagleswood Academy, a quarter-plate daguerreotype of the Weld-Grimké family by Greenleaf Weld, and many loose photographs of various family members.
The Realia series contains several linear feet of three-dimensional objects associated with the Weld-Grimké family, including Angelina's eyeglasses and watch, a family quilt, and a pocketknife belonging to Theodore Weld. Also included are a tea set, a Chinese fan, and an ivory sewing box. Most of the items date to the mid-19th century.
The Clippings and Miscellaneous series holds nearly 200 newspaper clippings, most of which are undated. 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.
In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a list of personal names, geographic locations, and subjects in the Weld-Grimké family papers: Weld-Grimké Supplements.