The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké

by Charlotte L.Forten Grimké
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According to Forten Grimké, why was it “dangerous and absurd” that women were being taught to view marriage as the epitome of human happiness and existence? How did Forten Grimké propose to promote equality of the sexes?

Forten Grimké believed that women were not made only for marriage. She thought they should maximize their intellectual potential instead of focusing on men, and that their true responsibilities lay with promoting justice and equality. The end goal of a woman's life was not merely marriage and procreation. Her lifelong activism was a testament to this belief.

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Forten Grimké was not overtly feminist in her writings, but through her family connections, she was exposed to almost all of the important progressive voices in 19th century America. Forten Grimké was keenly aware of the need for young women to maximize their intellectual potential, something she was able to...

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Forten Grimké was not overtly feminist in her writings, but through her family connections, she was exposed to almost all of the important progressive voices in 19th century America. Forten Grimké was keenly aware of the need for young women to maximize their intellectual potential, something she was able to do because of her relatively privileged socio-economic position.

This notion was explicitly opposed to the then "common sense" position that the "higher purpose" of women was marriage and procreation. In other words, for Forten, her purpose in life was to

become...what I should be; to prepare myself for the responsible duties of a teacher, and to live for the good that I can do my oppressed and suffering fellow-creatures.

To neglect these duties, or to subscribe to a social system that valued women only as mothers, no doubt must have seemed "dangerous and absurd" when given the alternative of self-actualization for women.

This sense of responsibility led to the creation of a kind of implicit, alternative, feminine ethic, shared by Forten Grimké and other prominent female activists (and especially by Quakers like Lucretia Mott). The expectation for Forten Grimké was that she would be active outside of the home. She saw her "duty" as an educated Black woman was to promote the liberation and social wellbeing of other Black people.

Her model for gender equality was no doubt based on her knowledge of Quaker practices and thought. Like the Quakers, Forten Grimke's ideas about gender equality were ones that she acted on, rather than only writing about them. The way to achieve gender equality, in her eyes, was by sharing the work of social reform common to both men and women.

Forten did marry at age 40 to the much younger Francis Grimké, the pastor of a large church in Washington DC. She did have a child, at age 42, that died as an infant. But her sense of social responsibility drove her to be an activist her entire life.

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