Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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A writer, economist, and lecturer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an early theorist of the feminist movement. According to The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society:

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was born in New England, a descendent of the prominent and influential Beecher family. Despite the affluence of her most famous ancestors, she was born into poverty. Her father abandoned the family when she was a child, and she received just four years of formal education. At an early age she vowed never to marry, hoping instead to devote her life to public service.

In 1882, however, at the age of twenty-one, she was introduced to Charles Walter Stetson (1858-1911), a Providence, Rhode Island artist, and the two were married in 1884. Charlotte Stetson became pregnant almost immediately after their marriage, gave birth to a daughter, and sunk into a deep depression that lasted for several years.

She eventually entered a sanitarium in Philadelphia to undergo the ìrest cure, a controversial treatment for nervous prostration, which forbade any type of physical activity or intellectual stimulation. After a month, she returned to her husband and child and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1888, she left Stetson and moved with her daughter to California, where her recovery was swift.

In the early 1890s, she began writing and lecturing, and in 1892, she published the now-famous story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” A volume of poems followed a year later. In 1898, she published her most famous book, Women and Economics. With its publication, and its subsequent translation into seven languages, Gilman earned international acclaim. In 1900, she married her first cousin, Houghton Gilman. Over the next twenty-five years, she wrote and published more than a dozen books.

Some of Gilman’s works are available for free online, including The Yellow Wallpaper and Herland (or Herland or Herland!) because they are no longer in copyright. Remarkably, some of the sites hosting the texts of her public domain works dishonestly claim copyrights in the texts themselves, such as the University of Virginia. Several terrific books about Gilman have been published, including this one by my friend and University of South Carolina colleague Cynthia Davis.

–Ann Bartow

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