Theodore Weld
Grimke/Weld gravesite, Mount Hope Cemetery, Mattapan, MA

I have an article up today on We’re History about the Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, two southern women who became abolitionists and wrote powerfully against slavery in the 1830s and 1840s. See that article for more information about them and their work. This post will be purely about their graves, which are located in Boston’s Mount Hope Cemetery.

If you leave the beautiful, perfectly manicured landscape of Jamaica Plain’s Forest Hills Cemetery and head south down Morton St. into Mattapan, you will find Mount Hope Cemetery. It is the largest and most impressive of a few adjacent grounds in Mattapan, covering 125 acres. It was created as a public space for the then independent city of Dorchester, but was soon overshadowed as Dorchester was annexed to Boston after the Civil War. Though it bears the hallmarks of a classic garden cemetery – hills and winding paths, large monumental tombs, trees and water – it is evident that Mount Hope is not a crown jewel of the Boston cemetery system like its northern neighbor. It receives far fewer visitors, and almost no tourists; it offers no maps, no guides. And also unlike Forest Hills, whose roster of luminaries stretches far, Mount Hope holds only three, all in the same plot: abolitionist Theodore Weld; his wife, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Angelina Grimké Weld, and Angelina’s sister Sarah, herself an abolitionist and fighter for women’s rights.

Sarah Grimke
Reverse of grave marker

In 1838, Angelina Grimké became Angelina Grimké Weld, marrying the famed and fiery abolitionist Theodore Weld in a Philadelphia ceremony officiated by two ministers, one white and one black. Theirs was a love forged in the literal fires of the abolitionist movement: not long after they met, Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hall was burned to the ground by anti-abolitionist rioters after Angelina gave a stirring speech there. Weld was a massively important figure in his own right, helping to inspire Uncle Tom’s Cabin and to jumpstart many abolitionist publications with his editorship of the Tennessee newsletter The Emancipator.

The Welds lived in New Jersey, near Theodore’s New York home base. Angelina’s older sister Sarah, who had never married, lived with them, and the three committed themselves to writing and education in opposition to slavery (and, increasingly, in support of women’s rights). At the end of the Civil War, they moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where Theodore took up teaching; Angelina and Sarah continued in education, and worked toward women’s suffrage in Massachusetts. Sarah died in 1879 at the age of 80, and was buried at Mount Hope; her sister Angelina followed her in 1879. Theodore did not pass away until 1895, but he too was buried in that family plot on Evergreen Lane in Mount Hope Cemetery.

All of this was recorded in several sources, which is good, for the headstone the three share along with many of Weld’s relatives leaves off one important detail: Angelina’s name. Theodore’s is prominent on the southern side of the stone, while Sarah’s has faded, but is still readable on the reverse. Nowhere can one find a reference to the most famous member of the family, Angelina.

For me, this is a reminder of the importance of record-keeping. Without several online sources, it would have been immensely difficult to locate the grave of this giant figure in the abolitionist movement, her name lost to history as thoroughly as those buried in pauper’s graves at the edge of Mount Hope. It’s easy to think that history is permanent, but it’s not: history is forgotten every day, through slights lighter than this one. In some ways, that is the most important part of a historian’s job: to use those small details to raise up stories that matter in our past: a desperate effort to keep them unforgotten. Hopefully the next person who seeks out Angelina’s grave will see this post and know that though her name was not recorded, she herself is there, in Boston’s forgotten cemetery, with her husband and sister, at peace.

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