Sociology Index

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935) was an American humanist, utopian feminist, and she also served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Charlotte Perkins Gilman has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story "The Yellow Wallpaper", which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis. In her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gilman wrote that her mother showed affection only when she thought her young daughter was asleep. "The Yellow Wallpaper", which is now the all-time best selling book of the Feminist Press. She wrote it on June 6 and 7, 1890, in her home of Pasadena, and it was printed a year and a half later in the January 1892 issue of The New England Magazine. Charlotte Perkins Gilman represented California in 1896 at both the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C., and the International Socialist and Labor Congress in London.

In 1890, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was introduced to Nationalist Clubs movement which worked to "end capitalism's greed and distinctions between classes while promoting a peaceful, ethical, and truly progressive human race." Published in the Nationalist magazine, her poem "Similar Cases" was a satirical review of people who resisted social change, and she received positive feedback from critics for it. Charlotte Perkins Gilman figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" was inspired by her treatment from her first husband. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote this story to change people's minds about the role of women in society, illustrating how women's lack of autonomy is detrimental to their mental, emotional, and even physical wellbeing. The narrator in the story must do as her husband, who is also her doctor, demands, although the treatment he prescribes contrasts directly with what she truly needs, mental stimulation and the freedom to escape the monotony of the room to which she is confined. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was essentially a response to the doctor (Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell) who had tried to cure her of her depression through a "rest cure". She sent him a copy of the story.

After a four-month-long lecture tour that ended in April 1897, Gilman began to think more deeply about sexual relationships and economics in American life, eventually completing the first draft of Women and Economics (1898). This book discussed the role of women in the home, arguing for changes in the practices of child-raising and housekeeping to alleviate pressures from women and potentially allow them to expand their work to the public sphere. The book propelled Gilman into the international spotlight. In 1903, she addressed the International Congress of Women in Berlin.

From 1909 to 1916 Gilman single-handedly wrote and edited her own magazine, The Forerunner, in which much of her fiction appeared. By presenting material in her magazine that would "stimulate thought", "arouse hope, courage and impatience", and "express ideas which need a special medium", she aimed to go against the mainstream media which was overly sensational. The magazine produced eighty-six issues, each twenty eight pages long. The magazine serialized works "What Diantha Did" (1910), The Crux (1911), Moving the Mountain (1911), and Herland. The Forerunner has been cited as being "perhaps the greatest literary accomplishment of her long career".