Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was the leading intellectual in the women’s movement during the first twenty years of the twentieth century. Born Charlotte Anna Perkins, she was the daughter of Frederick Beecher Perkins and Mary Fitch Wescott Perkins. In 1866 Frederick Perkins left his wife and three children. Gilman looked to her mother and her aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, for role models and learned early that a woman alone could lead a satisfying and useful life.
Gilman taught herself to read before she was five, and in adolescence she amused herself by writing extravagant tales of heroic fairy princesses, until her mother ordered her to stop. In her later life as a writer, she was continually to distrust her imaginative side, although she occasionally gave it free rein. With only four years of formal schooling, Gilman was determined to educate herself, and she continued to read voraciously throughout her life. When she was seventeen she wrote to her father, who was working as a librarian, and asked him to recommend books for her.
As she matured, Gilman came to feel keenly the injustices women suffered in the world. In her early twenties she earned a modest income giving private lessons and working as a commercial artist, but she aspired to a career as a writer. She wrote poetry, exercised her body to make it strong and fit, refused to wear constricting clothing, and lived as independently as she could.
In 1882 Gilman met Walter Stetson, who proposed marriage less than three weeks after their first meeting. She wavered for more than two years but finally married Stetson on May 2, 1884. Although Stetson respected Gilman and understood her objections to a traditional marriage, it was not to be a happy union. Gilman was pregnant within a few weeks, and she was subject to extreme fits of depression throughout the pregnancy and afterward. She began to feel more and more a prisoner—not of her husband but of the institution of marriage—and trial separations and treatment of her “nerves” failed to help. Late in 1887 she and her daughter left Stetson. The failed marriage was to be the inspiration for several poems that helped establish Gilman’s reputation and for her story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which has become her most widely anthologized work.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 3, 1860. Her father was Frederick Beecher Perkins, and her mother was Mary Fitch Westcott. The Beechers, including her early role model, Harriet Beecher Stowe, influenced her social convictions. Gilman married Charles Walter Stetson, a young artist, in 1884. Within the year, their daughter Katharine was born. Thereafter, Gilman suffered bouts of depression stemming from her desire to work as artist, writer, and advocate of women’s rights and the conflict between this desire and her more traditional role as wife and mother.
In 1886, Gilman had a breakdown and was treated for hysteria by neurologist S. Weir Mitchell, who prescribed total rest and abstinence from work. Despite the treatment, Gilman grew worse and feared for her sanity. She decided to take matters into her own hands, separated from Stetson, and moved to California, where she began to publish and lecture on the economic and domestic dependence of women.
During the 1890’s, Gilman published the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” based on her breakdown and rest treatment. During that time, she also published her first book of poetry, In This Our World, and a major volume of social criticism, Women and Economics. In 1900, Gilman married George Houghton Gilman. She continued to publish social criticism and fiction throughout the next decades. From 1909 to 1916, she single-handedly wrote and published the monthly magazine The Forerunner. Her husband died in 1934. Gilman, diagnosed with incurable breast cancer, took her own life on August 17, 1935.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s childhood experiences prepared her for a life of solitude and discipline, which is often essential to the life of an author. Abandoned by her husband, Charlotte’s mother decided to prepare her daughter for hardships by denying affection. Not only did she withhold from Gilman natural physical contact, but she also saw to it that Gilman had no intimate friends. Gilman turned to books for solace. When she was seventeen, her father sent her nonfiction books that prompted her to see her life’s work as a mission to help society.
From her teenage years, she seemed destined to pursue the arts in one form or another. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and gave drawing lessons to children. Her formal education took place during eight years in seven different schools; at age fifteen, her formal education was finished. For the remainder of her life she was self-taught.
Gilman had social awareness, and she soon realized the role of women in her time was changing. They were becoming more educated and some were working outside the home. By the age of twenty-one she was eager to go out alone, much to her mother’s displeasure. In 1882, she met Charles Walter Stetson, who was also a painter, and in 1884 they were married. A daughter was born to them in 1885, but serious bouts of depression followed the...
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Biography (Women's Issues (Ready Reference series))
A humanistic social Darwinian and communitarian, Charlotte Perkins Gilman believed that modern society needed to revise its foundations completely before full self-realization and freedom could come for both women and men. Gilman condemned capitalist society for its uncaring creation of a hopeless lower class, kept in ignorance by social and theological “rules.” (Unfortunately, much of Gilman’s work reflects a degree of racism and anti-Semitism.)
Gilman’s most influential work, Women and Economics: The Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution (1898), asserts that the oppression of women is ultimately based on women’s economic dependence on men. Other institutions—religion, education, ethics, marriage and family—simply reinforce this relationship. From childhood, she claimed, “young boys plan for what they will achieve and attain, [while] young girls plan for whom they will achieve and attain.” Here and in subsequent works, including the journal The Forerunner and her feminist utopian novel Herland (1915), Gilman also argues that women naturally possess ethical and moral superiority that, if respected, could reinvent society.
Through her writings and lectures, Gilman became the most widely known and respected female economic theorist of the early twentieth century. Women and Economics was translated into seven languages and praised by such renowned social critics as Jane Addams, Florence Kelly, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw. Her other works include Home: Its Work and...
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