Charlotte Perkins Gilman Bio
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born July 3, 1860 in Hartford, CT. Abandoned by her father in 1866, she (along with her mother and brother) lived in poverty for much of her childhood. For a woman who published an epic body of work, demonstrating depth and breadth in varied subjects, her formal education was surprisingly slight and she claimed to excel most in athletics. However, as noted by Jodi DiGrazia, Gilman had strong feminist influences as a youth, as "Charlotte would often spend time with her greataunts, Catherine Beecher, advocate of "domestic feminism", Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist, who was a supporter of women's right to vote, and Harriet Beecher Stower, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin" Her father, an editor and writer, though rarely a part of Gilman's' life, was an excellent resource for her education in literature.
Gilman etched her mark on society in subjects ranging from psychology to social structures, feminist ideology to history and economics. The use of poetry, the novel, the soapbox and the brevity of pamphlet style writing aided her message in influencing wide-reaching audiences. The volume and complexity of her writing, coupled with extremely progressive motives, mark Gilman as a great feminist and socialist amid strong anti-woman, pro-capitalist sentiments in the frenzied and shifting political and cultural scene of the early 1900's U.S. Possibly the most intriguing and influential among her work is the short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," which in its day impacted Silas Weir Mitchell's practice of his infamous "rest cure," and today is perhaps the most written about and taught work of Gilman's oeuvre.
Although, according to Paul Reuben, Gilman was "well respected among her peers and socialist circles" her progressivism was often unpopular. Once called an "unnatural mother" for leaving her daughter Katherine with ex-husband Charles Walter Stetson and his new wife (one of Gilman's best friends, and a woman she believed would raise the child more satisfactorily), Gilman questioned many aspects of the social order believed to be "natural" by her peers. She examined the economy, arrangement of the nuclear household, child rearing practices, and the position of women in society.
Gilman delivered her ideas not only through the lecture and pamphlet, but through the popular belletristic forms. Gilman's novels were widely read and her use of the serialized form, mainly in The Forerunner, a magazine she wrote, edited and published, allowed her message to reach both women and men of many classes. Anne J. Lane points to Gilman's fiction as proof of her borrowing popular styles to reach a varied audiences: "Gilman mischievously used the commonly shared forms and structures of her day (farces, domestic novels, mysteries, adventure stories) and infused them with her own brand of feminism and socialism" . Her intelligent decisions regarding her audience, whether they be housewives with leisure time, men examining the economy of their households or doctors in search of new mental health techniques, allowed her ideas to filter far into American culture.
Gilman's work stretches across an extensive range of styles and topics. What remains consistent throughout is a commitment to constructing a world that rejected capitalism and the subjugation of women and children. It is impossible to say simply, Gilman was a reformer or, Gilman was a feminist, or Gilman was a socialist; instead, it seems apt to say Gilman was extremely sensitive to the struggles of many people and the need for change in many social structures. Anne Sexton's poem, The Black Art, begins with the line "a woman who writes feels too much." Considering the great body of work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, one determines that she felt deeply regarding the necessary changes to be made in her nation and the body public.
- DiGrazia, Jodi. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman." College of Staten Island, Dept. of History. CUNY, 14 12 1998. Web. 3 Sep 2010.
- Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 6: Chorlette Perkins Gilman." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/gilman.html. 9.3.2010
- Lane, Ann J. ed. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1999
Researched and written by Sarah Knobel, 2011
Works By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co. (1898)
- Concerning Children. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co. (1900)
- The Home: Its Work and Influence. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co. (1903)
- Human Work. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co. (1904)
- The Man-Made World; or, Our Andocentric Culture. New York: Charlton Co. (1911)
- Our Brains and What Ails Them. (1912) [serialized in Forerunner]
- Humanness. (1913) [serialized in Forerunner]
- Social Ethics. (1914) [serialized in Forerunner]
- The Dress of Women. (1915) [serialized in Forerunner]
- Growth and Combat. (1916) [serialized in Forerunner]
- His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers. New York and London: Century Co. (1923)
- The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography.. New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Co. (1935)
- "The Yellow Wallpaper" in New England Magazine, 5 [January], (1892).
- The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co. (1899).
- What Diantha Did. New York: Charlton Co. (1910)
- Moving the Mountain. New York: Charlton Co. (1911)
- The Crux. New York: Charlton Co. (1911)
- Benigna Machiavelli. (1916) [serialized in Forerunner]; Santa Barbara, CA: Bandanna Books, 1994.
- Herland. (1915) [serialized in Forerunner]
- With Her in Ourland. (1916) [serialized in Forerunner]
- Unpunished. [detective novel; First published by Feminist Press, Hardback edition 1997, paperback edition 1998]
- In This Our World. Oakland, California: McCombs & Vaughn (1893)
- Suffrage Songs and Verses New York: The Charlton Company. (1911)