Charlotte L. Forten Grimké (August 17, 1837 – July 23, 1914) was born into the leading free African-American family of Philadelphia. She was an ardent abolitionist, and taught freed slaves on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, for two years at the end of the Civil War. After that time, she settled in Washington, DC, where she worked in an administrative support position at Sumner High School (from 1872 to 1873), and for the US Treasury Department (from 1873 to 1878, as first class clerk in the Fourth Auditor’s Office). She married the Reverend Francis James Grimké in 1878, at age 41, and her only child, a daughter, died in infancy.
Grimké’s health was frail throughout her life; she had a recurrent problem as a child with a condition described as “lung fever” and also experienced periods of depression. Her husband was 13 years her junior, whose sermons had gained national repute for their vigorous defense of African Americans. Her best-known works during her lifetime were her articles published in mainstream white magazines: “Life on the Sea Islands” (published in the Atlantic Monthly), and “Personal Recollections of Whittier” (published in New England Magazine).
Grimké hosted salons and parties that made her home a social and cultural center. On Friday evenings from 8:00 to 10:00, she hosted the Art Club, a salon where friends gathered for the formal study of visual art and literature. Between 1855 and the late 1890s, she published 15 poems and approximately the same number of essays in African American periodicals. She also kept a diary which was published posthumously in 1953. Her house at 1608 R St. NW in DC is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and marked with an historic plaque.