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Theodore Weld was born in Hampton, Connecticut in 1803, son to Elizabeth Clark and Ludovicus Weld, a minister of the Hampton Congregational Church. After attending Hamilton College and the Oneida Institute, he went on to study at the Lane Seminary in Cincinnati in 1834.

It was an experience in grade school that led to Weld’s profound concern for racial equality. When an African American boy named Jerry entered his class, the teacher segregated Jerry from the rest of the students. Theodore asked to be seated next to the boy. As an adult, Weld became a passionate abolitionist. He gave lectures, trained workers for the American Anti-Slavery Society, and wrote influential pamphlets anonymously. He was also an adviser to an anti-slavery bloc in Congress in the early 1840s.

It was during an anti-slavery convention that Weld met Angelina Grimké. Angelina was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1805, the daughter of a slave-owning judge. Growing to detest slavery, she followed her older sister Sarah to Philadelphia in 1829. There she adopted the Quaker religion and turned to teaching. Shortly after, she became an abolitionist and promoted women’s rights.

Grimké and Weld were married in 1838. Since Weld was a Presbyterian, Angelina was formally dismissed from the Society of Friends.  Theirs was not a traditional marriage. A collection of letters during the couple’s courtship shows that they wanted an egalitarian marriage. They spoke of their spiritual attraction to each other, and that they had same-sex friends who were just as dear to them.  They said a marriage should be founded on “spirit and equality.”

The Welds had three children, Charles Stuart, Theodore Grimké, and Sarah Grimké.  In 1840, they moved to New Jersey where they ran schools until 1862. During that time, they became progressively less orthodox. Angelina’s became interested in the Millerite movement in the mid-1840’s, and later the couple became involved with Spiritualists, including, medium Isaac Post and William Lloyd Garrison.

The Posts had rented rooms to Kate and Margaret Fox, who had gained a reputation for communicating with spirits through rapping noises. Amy became the Fox sister’s mentor during the early part of their careers. The Posts, like Angelina, had given up their Quaker religion.  Since the Welds believed physical bodies were only temporary housing, Spiritualism was a good fit for their ideals. It supported the belief that spiritual friendship was the foundation of all relationships. In the spirit world where there was no sexism or racism.

In 1863 the Welds moved to Massachusetts, where they continued teaching. Angelina suffered a stroke in 1873.  Weld lived to be 91 years old and died in Hyde Park, MA in 1895.

Additional Reading:

Abzug, Robert H. (1980) Passionate Liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld & the Dilemma of Reform. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, Robert Kent (2006) Society of Souls: Spirit, Friendship, and Antebellum Reform Imagination. William and Mary dissertation



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