Book Review: The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd

We sent you out there on behalf of
abolition, not women.
– Theodore Weld, The Invention of Wings

The rights of women were perceived to be a “paltry grievance” by male leaders of the abolitionist movement.  It wasn’t the “time” for equality for women.  Hell, it still isn’t almost two centuries later.

Hushing up the Grimké sisters ~ would it ever stop?

Sarah Grimké in her Quaker garb.

Sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.
– Sarah Grimké

Sarah Grimké had endured the muzzle her entire life, and she was done.  The last sentence of her response to Mr. Weld’s and John Whittier’s attempt to silence her feminist ideals has been infamously quoted by the Notorious RBG, the future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Gisburg:

How can you ask us to go back to our parlors? To turn our backs on ourselves and on our own sex? We don’t wish the movement to split, of course we don’t ~ it saddens me to think of it ~ but we can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men. Do what you have to do, censure us, withdraw your support, we’ll press on anyway. Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.

The Trump era has been brutal for people of color and women.  The Invention of Wings is a fictionalized account by Sue Monk Kidd of the lives of Sarah Grimké, her sister and godchild Angelina Grimké Weld, and the slave Sarah received as a gift for her 11th birthday, Hetty known affectionately as Handful.

Sarah’s abhorrence of her gift fueled her abolitionist sentiments and inspired her mission in life.  Sarah also chafed under the expectation that she would sublimate her brilliance to serve the needs of the men in her life.  She ultimately made the hard choice to focus on her career.  Sarah and I were both born on November 26, aspired to have legal careers, and were ultimately compelled to choose between marriage and career.

The book is a very timely and fascinating read about the early days of the abolitionist and feminist movements in the United States.  I was most intrigued by the historical tension between the movements.  In an earlier post, I wrote about my Rittenhouse ancestor’s participation in the launching of the abolitionist movement by Mennonites and Quakers with the 1688 Germantown, PA Protest Against Slavery. Their petition was minimized and ignored by the Quakers until 1754.  It planted the seeds for the Declaration of Independence which stated that all [white] men are created equal.

Angelina Grimké Weld

The Grimké sisters gave the abolitionist movement a boost with their popular speeches and launched the feminist movement a decade before the Senecca Falls convention in 1848 where Elizabeth Cady Stanton edited the Declaration of Independence to read that all men “and women” are created equal.  Sarah Grimké and Lucretia Mott were feminists who belonged to the same Quaker Meeting group in Germantown which penned the 1688 protest statement.  I think it is very cool that Sarah and Mrs. Mott likely worked with and knew my Rittenhouse ancestors.

Angelina and Sarah Grimké grew up in Charleston, SC in a slave-owning family before they were drawn to the equality of sexes offered by the Quaker faith in Pennsylvania.  I loved that the author opted to weave together the stories of Sarah and Hetty/Handful. The real Hetty died young.  Sarah incessantly begged for Hetty’s freedom.  Sarah lived to see Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation, but the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed.


5 responses to “Book Review: The Invention of Wings

  1. The books sounds very interesting. In a cool convergence, I just finished reading Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson. Lucrecia Coffin Mott was a dear friend of Harriet’s and helped her in her social justice work. Harriet was a feminist and wanted the vote for all women. She was sidelined by the suffrage movement, nevertheless she persisted. That was a very inspiring time in our country, hope we can make similar headway to abolish racism today.

  2. Great posting and review. It is essential that Love and Reason should prevail in this world. Given the recent events in Portland and now possibly Chicago, and the Republican Politic wasteland, one can only give to the ACLU and hope.

  3. How are you, Bill?

    We’ve missed you on FB. The protests here in Seattle have been declared a riot, and Trump’s goons are on the ground.

    Sending hugs and best wishes,

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