Charlotte L. Forten Grimké
Abolitionist, educator, and writer Charlotte Forten Grimke was born into a wealthy abolitionist family in Philadelphia. She attended Higginson Grammar School in Salem, Massachusetts, as the only African American student in a class of 200. She later studied literature and teaching at the Salem Normal School.
As a member of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, she began to compose her Journals (1854–64 and 1885–92), which would become renowned chronicles of the abolitionist movement. After graduating, she taught at Epes Grammar School in Salem and was the first African American to teach white students in Massachusetts. With a recommendation from a friend, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, she then taught freed slaves on St. Helena Island in South Carolina from 1862 to 1864 as part of the Civil War’s Port Royal Experiment. In addition to teaching, she recorded her students’ hymns and her own experiences, which she published in two 1864 essays for the Atlantic Monthly, “Life on the Sea Islands.”
She settled in Washington, D.C., where she became a clerk for the U.S. Treasury. She married the Reverend Francis James Grimke, a former slave, in 1878. Grimke published poems and essays in leading African American periodicals and organized a women’s missionary group in support of her husband’s ministry. Influenced by Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth, her poetry is notable for the nuance of its sound and emotion.
Grimke died of a cerebral embolism in Washington, D.C., in 1914.