Happy Birthday Charlotte Perkins Gilman!
As a female sociologist I was very excited to share this month’s birthday post. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wore many hats, that of sociologist, social reformer, feminist, short-story and nonfiction writer, and novelist.
Born July 3, 1860 Gilman had a difficult childhood. Her father abandoned the small family when Gilman was young, leaving Gilman’s mother to raise two children on her own. Without her father the family moved around quite frequently, causing Gilman’s education to suffer. Seeing her mother abandoned and her father as a wanderer gave her an early idea of relationships between men and women.
When Gilman was 24 she married an artist, Charles Stetson. Together they had a daughter, Katharine, a short year later. To Gilman marriage felt like a loss of autonomy, and having a child made this feeling grow. After her daughter was born Gilman experienced postpartum Depression. She wrote about her depression, expressing that she was miserable at home living domestically and thrived when she left the house.
Gilman recorded what one specialist told her when she described her troubles, advising her to, “live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time….And never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live”. Gilman stated that trying to follow this advice made her come, “perilously close to loving my mind”.
Using her experience she wrote her most famous short story, The Yellow Wallpaper (which you can read here and I HIGHLY suggest you do), in 1892. A story of a young woman who slowly goes mad due to “enforced idleness”.
As a young adult Gilman experienced a culture where women were beginning to debate their place in society with much more vigor. It was this culture that motivated her to become a women’s rights activist and sociologist. In 1898 she published Women and Economics, a call for women to “gain economic independence, and the work helped cement her as a social theorist”. The book was very well received, it was translated into seven different languages and got high praise from women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams.
One of Gilman’s poems, “Similar Cases”, became a “rallying cry for nationalism”. It was this moment that Gilman started to tour and give lectures. Her lecturing her connected her to women’s organizations and labor reform organizations. Gilman combined women’s issues with topics of economic justice and overall social well-being.
Gilman started a magazine, The Forerunner, that was published from 1909 to 1916. The magazine included essays, opinion pieces, poetry, fiction and novel excerpts. Gilman used the magazine as a place to express, “her ideas on women’s issues and social reform”.
If you are not completely convinced Charlotte Perkins Gilman is an amazing woman I leave you with this quote:
There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.
In 1935 Gilman found out that she had inoperable breast cancer. The year prior her second husband had passed away. It all became too much for Gilman and she committed suicide on August 17, 1935.
All quotes not highlighted are from:
Lengermann, Patricia M., and Jill Niebrugge-Brantley. The Women Founders: Sociology and Social Theory, 1830-1930: A Text/reader. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998. Print.