The GOSPEL TRUTH
THEODORE WELD: CRUSADER FOR FREEDOM
BENJAMIN P. THOMAS
THE SUPREME TEST
Informing a friend of the Welds' intention to move to Massachusetts, Sarah Grimké wrote that Theodore had purchased a "lovely little house" in Fairmount, seven miles south of Boston on the Neponset River. (The town was later consolidated with Hyde Park which is now a part of Greater Boston.) The move was occasioned by Weld's decision to return to teaching, and it came about by reason of an offer from Dr. Dioclesian Lewis, well known in that day as a homeopathic and hydropathic practitioner and champion of physical culture and temperance.
Born in Auburn, New York, in 1823, Dio Lewis studied medicine with a local doctor, attended the Harvard Medical School for a single term, and then, without further warrant until he received an honorary M.D. from the Homoeopathic Hospital of Cleveland in 1851, practiced medicine at Port Byron and Buffalo, New York, at the latter place also editing a monthly magazine, The Homoeopathist. At intervals he traveled through the South, the Midwest, and Canada, lecturing on temperance and physical education, invariably closing his discourse on the latter subject by inviting the audience to join him in calisthenics.
In 1861 he incorporated the Boston Normal Institute for Physical Education with the backing or approval of such men as Bronson Alcott, President Cornelius Felton of Harvard, Walter Channing, a former dean of the Harvard Medical College, Edward Everett, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the publisher James T. Fields. This school was destined to graduate 420 persons in its seven-year existence.
A conspicuous figure, tall and sturdy, with an inordinately large head, Lewis was dramatic, quick-witted, and persuasive as a lecturer. He was also a prolific writer and had recently published a book on The New Gymnastics that was winning wide acclaim.
With the success of his Boston school assured, Lewis projected a Young ladies' boarding school at Lexington. He had known Weld for several years, for in the early fifties the Welds, experimenting with every mode of treatment for their invalid son Theodore, had sent the boy to a hydropathic institute that Dr. Lewis operated for a time in New York City. Familiar with Weld's success at Eagleswood, Lewis now persuaded him to teach English at his female seminary, which the prospectus described as "a noble structure, with every advantage of grounds, sunshine and ventilation, . . . ten miles from Boston, at Lexington, the site of the first Revolutionary battlefield. It is a quiet farm village, famous for its healthfulhess, in a picturesque region, threaded by delightful rides and walks."
Doctor and Mrs. Lewis taught anatomy, physiology, and physical training; Mr. Carlton, the assistant principal, and his wife instructed in languages, mathematics, and science; while Weld was advertised to "give familiar lectures on Mental and Moral training, and take charge of Composition and Recitation, with the Critical reading and Analysis of Shakespeare and other masters of thought and speech." With physical culture a feature of the curriculum, Lewis' prospectus promised that girls with drooping shoulders and weak spines and chests would be brought into "a vigorous and symmetrical development" under the advantages of "the Movement Cure, the New Gymnastics and the popular games of the English and German peoples." Lewis had been a fervent abolitionist, and, while the maiority of his students came from aristocratic families, the color line was never drawn at the school and a few colored girls were accepted as students, a policy which must have gratified Weld.
Thus, with the conclusion of the war and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, Weld, along with almost all the other abolitionists, returned to normal pursuits. Unlike Wendell Phillips, who was exceptional in regarding emancipation as merely preliminary to the larger struggle for full social and political rights for Negroes and continued to agitate for Negro betterment, Weld, like Garrison, seemed content with a formal victory. True, he was active in the local Freedman's Association, which gave relief and legal aid to needy black men, but his zeal for Negro advancement was manifested only in individual cases which came within his notice and did not operate on any general scale. Again in contrast with Phillips, whose reformist urge now found expression in an attack upon "wage slavery," Weld had no complaint against the capitalistic system and showed no interest in the labor movement. Perhaps he thought that the white laborer, once he had awakened to his full potentialities, was quite capable of fighting his own battles at the ballot box. But in extenuation of Weld's almost abandoning a cause which he had done so much to initiate and whose consequences were still problematical, we can plead only his advancing years.
For a time the whole Weld family had employment at the Lexington seminary: Angelina as teacher of history, and Sarah Grimké as housekeeper and general manager. They were away from their Hyde Park home from Monday to Friday, returning only for the weekends, while the affairs of their own household were managed by Eliza Grimké, who had come from Charleston to make her home with the sisters. For three years Weld aided Dio Lewis at Lexington, and then, in September, 1867, the seminary burned. The school term was completed in temporary quarters, and then the Welds lost their employment when the seminary was disbanded.
This was a fateful year for Theodore, Angelina, and Sarah--a time when they were put to the acid test of their convictions. The most significant endeavor of their lives had been for the elevation of the Negro, the winning of his freedom, and the recognition of his right to a place in human society equal to that of the white man. Now, one winter evening as Angelina was browsing through the columns of a Boston newspaper, she came by chance upon the name of Archibald Grimké. It was in a syndicated article telling of the unusual record of a colored boy of that name at Lincoln University, a school for Negroes at Oxford, Pennsylvania.
At first Angelina thought the student might be one of the Grimkés' freed slaves who had taken the family name. Then she began to speculate. Could it be that this colored student really was a Grimké? Things like that had happened under the slave system in the South. Henry Grimké, brother of Angelina and Sarah, had remained in South Carolina until his death in 1850, and they knew but little of the sort of man he had turned out to be. Could it be, Angelina wondered in anguish, that this colored youth was her own brother's son? Aghast and panic-stricken at the possibility, she confided her suspicions to Weld and to her sister.
There were some anxious councils at the Weld fireside. It would have been easy to throw the paper aside and forget the matter or keep it secret. No one would ever be the wiser. But that was not the Welds' way. Weld and the sisters agreed that Angelina should write a letter to this colored youth.
His answer came quickly, confirming her fears. Yes, he and his brother Francis, also a student at Lincoln University, were sons of Henry Grimké by Nancy Weston, a beautiful family slave, and they had another full brother, John, who was still in South Carolina with their mother. On their father's death he had bequeathed his three slave offspring to his son Montague, their own half-brother, and the war and Lincoln's edict of emancipation had brought them freedom.
Angelina and Sarah were horrified at the disclosure: more to think that their brother Henry could be guilty of such a sin than because these colored boys were their nephews. Nevertheless, to acknowledge the kinship put their equalitarian idealism to the strongest test; but not even momentarily did they or Theodore flinch. All three agreed that these youths were rightfully their relatives and must be recognized as such. Angelina wrote a letter that Theodore and Sarah endorsed. She would not dwell on the past, she said; what was done could not be undone. She was glad the boys had taken their rightful name, and she hoped they would never dishonor it. In June, accompanied by her elder son Charles Stuart, Angelina attended the commencement exercises at Lincoln University in order to become acquainted with the boys. Archibald Henry, the elder, was nineteen, Francis James was his junior by one year; and Angelina reported that both of them were good-looking, intelligent, and gentlemanly.
Angelina remained at the university a week, learning how, with the coming of freedom, the Negro mother had reared her children in a dilapidated little house in Charleston; how Gilbert Pillsbury, brother of Weld's acquaintance Parker Pillsbury, came to Charleston to be mayor during reconstruction, and his wife Frances, opening a school for colored children, had given the Grimké boys their first opportunity for education. Through her efforts Archibald and Francis were sent North into white families who agreed to see to their education in return for the work they did, but who ignored this obligation once the boys were under their control. Discovering the unfaithfulness of these supposed white friends, Mrs. Pillsbury had eventually got the boys admitted to Lincoln University, despite the inadequacy of their preparation. Here they made outstanding records, earning part of their way by waiting on table and teaching small Negro schools in the South in summer.
Both boys became student-teachers at Lincoln, and Archibald served as librarian. The professors at Lincoln were all white men, and one of them was so impressed by the older boy's remarkable aptitude that he wrote about him to Congressman Samuel Shellabarger of Ohio; and the congressman, in admiration of the manner in which the colored boy had improved his meager opportunities, prepared the syndicated article that Angelina had read in the Boston newspaper.
Angelina showed her true nobility of character throughout the visit, but it was a harrowing experience none the less, and she was ill all the following summer.
Before she left the colored school she invited her Negro nephews to visit the Welds in Hyde Park, and the boys accepted eagerly. This was a great occasion in their lives, and, anxious to make a favorable impression on their white relatives, they pooled their small savings to buy high silk hats, canes, and custom-made boots. Thus accoutred they journeyed to Hyde Park, and, however they may have astonished the Welds and Sarah Grimké, who represented the epitome of quiet taste, the white folk welcomed them heartily. The boys were not slow to learn, and their visit was a lesson in the virtues of simple living.
But the Welds and Sarah Grimké did more than merely acknowledge their relationship to these aspiring colored youths. They helped their nephews complete their education. Both boys graduated from Lincoln University in 1870, and then Francis James, assisted by the Welds' and Sarah's benevolence, went on to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1878. He was pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., for almost fifty years; served as a trustee of Howard University, a Negro college in Washington; was a member of the American Negro Academy; and wrote numerous articles treating diverse phases of the problem of Negro betterment.
Archibald Henry Grimké, aided like his brother by his white relatives, obtained an M.A. degree from Lincoln University in 1872, then entered the Harvard Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1874. By this time Sarah was dead, Angelina was sixty-nine years old, and Theodore Weld was seventy-one. Their labors in behalf of the colored race were at an end. But through these nephews, whom they helped to educate, and especially through the elder one, the cause of Negro improvement was carried forward. For Archibald Henry Grimké won renown.
A practicing lawyer in Boston, he resided for a time in Hyde Park; and when he was away from home on business trips, the Welds took care of his infant daughter, whom he named Angelina Weld Grimké. When Weld drew up his will on December 6, 1889, he made a bequest of about $850 to Archibald Grimké for the education of this daughter, going to special pains, it would seem, to designate the father as "my nephew, Archibald Grimke."
Angelina and Sarah did not live to see this nephew realize their high hopes for him, but Weld, assisting and encouraging him in inconspicuous ways, was gratified at his election to the presidency of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and later to a vice-presidency of the national society and to membership on its board of trustees. From 1883 to 1885 Grimké was editor of the Hub, a paper devoted to the advancement of the Negro race. He was a crusader against racial discrimination, race prejudice, and the double standard of sex morality of which he was a victim. He became a student of the antislavery movement in which his benefactors had been so prominent, contributing articles to the Boston Herald, the Boston Traveler, and the Atlantic Monthly, and writing biographies of Garrison and Charles Sumner. Under the auspices of the American Negro Academy he lectured and wrote numerous pamphlets in support of full voting rights for Negroes.
In 1884 Archibald Grimké was alternate delegate to Henry Cabot Lodge at the Republican national convention, and in 1894 he was appointed consul to the Negro republic of Santo Domingo by President Cleveland, serving in that capacity for four years. Returning to Boston and moving later to Washington, D.C., he took up again his labors in behalf of his race, serving as president of the American Negro Academy from 1903 to 1916 and winning the respect of whites and blacks alike.
Many honors came to him for his work: membership in the Authors' League of America and the Authors' Club of London, the presidency of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, trusteeship of the Estate of Emmeline Cushing for Negro Education. In 1919 he was awarded the Spingarn medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the highest achievement of an American citizen of African descent.
Recognition of these colored nephews and the advancement of their education was a fitting climax to the lives of Theodore and Angelina Weld and Sarah Grimké. It was as though fate had decreed for them a supreme trial of their sincerity, an ordeal by fire, where constancy assured the carrying forward of their ideals.
The remainder of their story is soon told. For several years Weld conducted a small school in a rented room. He delivered frequent lectures to small audiences in and around Boston. He was a leader of the movement to organize the Hyde Park Free Public Library, and served as chairman of its board for nine years. He was a member of the school board and an officer of the town.
Sarah Grimké was a contributor to the New York Tribune, the Independent, and the Woman's Journal. She made an abridged translation of Lamartine's biography of Joan of Arc. "My mind has recently dwelt much on the so called 'Social Evil,'" she wrote in 1872, "too mild a term for a crime which degrades man to an animal, & woman even below him, altho' by nature his superior, which only renders her the more guilty. I have after much reflection come to the conclusion that woman in the matter of licentiousness is the greater sinner--1st because the sexual passion in man is ten times stronger than in woman 2d. Because he only accepts what she prepares for the gratification of his lust." Sarah's opinions were quite positive for an old maid of eighty-one.
The woman's movement had always held a strong attraction for Weld and the two sisters, and their interest was reinvigorated in February, 1870, when Lucy Stone, the silver voice of woman suffrage, gave a lecture in Hyde Park.
Beginning with a protest against woman's enforced silence in public meeting, in which Weld and the Grimké sisters had played a part, the woman's movement had developed into a demand for the vote, and as a result of Mrs. Stone's lecture a number of Hyde Park women determined to make a demonstration at the next election. A few days beforehand a large caucus of both men and women was called, a slate of candidates was drawn up, and Weld made a ringing speech.
On election day, March 7, a terrific snowstom blanketed the town, but the protestants assembled at a hotel near the polling place. Each woman had a masculine escort who presented his lady with a bouquet. Thus adorned they formed a procession, and with Weld and Angelina in the lead and Sarah and her escort in the second rank, they marched to the polls through swirling snow. As they reached the polling place, each man dropped back, while his lady, proceeding on, dropped her ballot in a special receptacle provided through the influence of the wife of one of the selectmen. From the crowd that had assembled for the spectacle came mingled jeers and cheers as the procession, re-forming, returned to the hotel.
In Hyde Park, as in Fort Lee, Belleville, and Perth Amboy, the sisters were constantly occupied with visiting the sick and dispensing quiet charity. They liked to remember old friends with simple gifts. But Sarah's hearing and eyesight began to fail, and Angelina was often sick.
Sarah was the first of them to pass to her reward when death came to her on December 23, 1873. The funeral services were in the home, and she was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in a plain coffin and with simple ceremony. Garrison and Lucy Stone paid tributes, and Weld sobbed like a child as he declared: "Her heart embraced all good. She knew no creed, but loved all and identified herself with all." Her colored nephew, Archibald Henry Grimké, came from Cambridge to pay his last respects.
Not long after Sarah's funeral Angelina came home one day, weary and overwrought from several hours of ministering to a neighbor who was a hopeless consumptive. Next morning when Theodore awoke she said very quietly: "I've something to tell you." Her tone frightened him, and she said quickly: "Don't be alarmed. I'm not. It's all for the best. Something ails my right side. I can't move hand or foot. I must be paralyzed." She had suffered a stroke in the night.
She lived six years in helplessness, finally losing the power of speech, and died on October 26, 1879. Again there was a simple service in Weld's home, around a plain coffin draped with smilax, with wreaths of English ivy and tuberoses and a sheaf of ripened wheat at the foot. Angelina left a paper stating: "I have purposely selected my oldest clothes to be buried in, that my good ones may be given to the poor, that they may do good after I am gone."
His life's companions gone now, Weld, still hale and active at the age of seventy-six, lived with his son Charles and his daughter-in-law. Elizur Wright, who had brought him into the antislavery battle, had built an imposing home at nearby Medford, and here Weld, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were frequent visitors and liked to swap their old men's tales as they drank lemonade and ate cookies.
Near Medford was Bear Hill, an eminence surrounded by many acres of beautiful, rugged, heavily wooded land which Wright envisioned as an everlasting asset to the people as a public park. Interesting Weld, Whittier, Samuel E. Sewall, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Edward Everett Hale in his project, Wright got some four hundred people collected on the spot and organized the Middlesex Fells Association. This inspired a series of forest festivals, the third one being held on June 17, 1882, in honor of the passing of a Massachusetts forestry law the month before. Unable to attend the festival, Weld wrote:
"Would that I could be with you next Saturday .... Your Middlesex people are the first in the field, pioneers, scouts, advance guard, marshalled and already dealing blows that tell. That's right. Muster all you can to the rescue of the forests .... The death of our forests is a great national calamity . . . and it rushes on apace. If this universal vandalism that sweeps down the forests, millions of acres every year, can't be stopped, and that speedily, the life of the whole nation is sapped .... Blessings on your Middlesex Fells Association--the first to cry aloud in preaching the gospel of national salvation. Ring the alarm bells loud and long ...." Thus, in his old age, Weld added conservation to his list of reform causes.
Tributes came to Weld with his old age--letters from old friends and invitations to attend ceremonials of one sort or another. He was an honored speaker and a pallbearer at Garrison's funeral; and Wendell Phillips asked him to write a life of Garrison, venturing, he wrote, "to advise an older & better soldier than myself." Phillips himself died in 1884, and the following year, at memorial services on Phillips' birthday, Weld was the speaker of the evening. Introducing him, the chairman said: "I have the great pleasure of presenting to you Mr. Theodore D. Weld. At the age of eighty-two he comes to speak to us as no living man can of Wendell Phillips. Mr. Phillips always spoke of him as the most eloquent and impressive of the early antislavery orators and cherished for him the most reverential regard. Let us not forget how much we owe to him and his noble wife, Angelina Grimké."
Weld's birthday became a day of reunion for the abolition brotherhood as the years ticked off, and friends and neighbors delighted to do him honor. But the ranks were thinning fast, and by 1889 Weld and Whittier were about the only ones left. And outside the restricted circle in which he moved, Weld's name was almost unknown.
Weld lectured occasionally up to his ninetieth birthday, mostly on Shakespeare or education, subjects upon which he was accounted an authority. Then advancing feebleness confined him to the house. On the night of February 3, 1895, the silent stranger came, and he passed away in his sleep, aged ninety-one years and two months. His life had almost spanned the nineteenth century, and he had participated in almost all the major reform movements of that ebullient age.
In the autograph album of Weld's grandson, Whittier had written in April, 1884;"What shall I wish him? Strength and health
May be abused and so may wealth.
Even fame itself can come to be
But wearying notoriety.
What better can I ask than this?
A life of brave unselfishhess,
Wisdom for council, eloquence
For Freedom's need, for Truth's defence,
The championship of all that's good,
The manliest faith in womanhood,
The steadfast friendship changing not
With change of time or place or lot,
Hatred of sin, but not the less
A heart of pitying tenderness
And charity, that, suffering long,
Shames the wrong-doer from his wrongs:
One wish expresses all--that he
May even as his grandsire be.!
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