I’ve seen this quote in various forms and on many images passed around as quoting Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No! It wasn’t she, but Sarah Grimke, the Southern suffragist and abolitionist, who said this, way back in the 19th century.

The entire quote is:

“I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.” — Sarah Grimké Letter 2 (July 17, 1837). Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman (1837)

Read more about her here:

Sarah and her sister Angelina were the daughters of enslavers and a Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. They left the South to visit friends in Philadelphia and never returned—which is just as well, because after they both wrote well-received pamphlets denouncing slavery and calling on the women of the South to repudiate it, their books and pamphlets were often burned and their own lives threatened.


A recent film on RBG opened with her quoting Grimke—maybe that’s how the misattribution happened. But it’s important that we women know our own history.

Recently, a young woman remarked on Twitter that RBG gave women the credit cards in their pockets. Again, no! You can thank the women of the National Organization for Women and other women’s groups for that right to have credit in your name, starting in about 1969 and culminating in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. They sat in the EEOC offices, sued, lobbied, and otherwise raised hell to get you that credit card. RBG did represent women well in several law suits during that time in attempts to get courts to apply the law equally to women, and sometimes succeeded, but she did not undertake a campaign to earn women the right to have credit in their own names. That took a very concerted effort by many women.

It takes so many more of us than some might think to make change. RBG was great, but she was only one extraordinarily smart, capable, and dedicated woman. It takes many women to make change, and many women of different talents and capabilities.

If you’d like to know more about the Grimkes and other feminists, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I’d recommend Miriam Schneir’s and bell hooks’s (lower case intentional) excellent series of books on feminists and feminism.

For a fictionalized account of Sarah Grimke, about whom we know not nearly enough facts, find Sue Monk Kidd’s wonderful The Invention of Wings, which helps us imagine how a privileged daughter of enslavers might have arrived at her rebellion against slavery.

Strongly Recommended!

2 responses to “In Which I Gnash My Teeth”

  1. Linda Avatar

    Thank you for setting this straight and reminding us of the importance of all the unsung–and forgotten–activists who nourish the grassroots that make so much more possible.


  2. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    My goal is to get more people to BE the grass roots. I hope everything I say gets them to see how that is possible. Thanks for reading and commenting!


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