SOCI 1110-04/ Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Who is Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Quick Overview

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is mostly known for her work as an author and poet in the late 1800's. Writing poems, as well publishing 186 short stories in magazines and newspapers, such as "The Yellow Wallpaper", she was an exceptional woman who pushed the boundaries and expectations of a women's role in society at that time. A leading activist in the realm of feminism, Gilman progressed into many other forms of social advocacy, particularly for her part in the feminist movement.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman c. 1900

Early Life

Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut . During Charlotte's infancy, her father abandoned the family, leaving them in poverty, as her mother was unable to support the family on her own. Most of her youth was spent in Providence, Rhode Island. she attended seven different schools, in just four years. Charlotte’s teachers were often disappointed in her because she was a poor student, though she had natural intelligence and breadth of knowledge. she unknowingly prepared herself for a successful life by frequently visiting the public library and educating herself. Most of her friends were male, as she was unashamed, for her time, to call herself a "tomboy”. In 1878, the eighteen-year-old enrolled in classes at the Rhode Island School of Design with the help of her absent father, and supported herself as an artist of trade cards. She was also a tutor, and encouraged others to expand their artistic creativity.

Later Life

In 1900, Gilman had married for the second time. She wed her cousin George Gilman, and the two stayed together until his death in 1934. The next year she discovered that she had inoperable breast cancer. Charlotte Perkins Gilman committed suicide on August 17, 1935.

Her Work

While she is best known for her fiction, Gilman was also a successful lecturer and intellectual. One of her greatest works of nonfiction, Women and Economics, was published in 1898. A feminist, she called for women to gain economic independence, and the work helped cement her standing as a social theorist. It was even used as a textbook at one time. Other important nonfiction works followed, such as The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903) and Does a Man Support His Wife? (1915).

Along with writing books, Charlotte Perkins Gilman established The Forerunner, a magazine that allowed her to express her ideas on women's issues and on social reform. It was published from 1909 to 1916 and included essays, opinion pieces, fiction, poetry and excerpts from novels.

Major Points and Conclusions

Gilman lived in a time where the common role of women was subordination to men, and where their isolation from the social world was prominent. Depression, psychological stress, and mania was not unexpected in women, and was often dismissed as it was usual, in that day. As a wife to Charles Walter Stetson from 1884 to 1888 (legally divorcing in 1894), Gilman suffered from depression and did not fit well into the conventional position of a housewife. The various experiences that Gilman lived with growing up, became some of the main points in her work as an author, lecturer and social reformist. For instance, growing up mostly in the presence of her great aunts (who were suffragists and abolitionists), Gilman would come to know of the cultural and gender hegemony that surrounded her. Not only were the view's of the higher classes universal, but more specifically those of men. Being a compelling feminist, her focus had a large part in gender stratification; the disproportionate division of what is known as the three Ps: power, prestige and property. This goes hand in hand with her ideology that women also need these conditions, much like men, to remain mentally sound. This is evident in her story titled, "The Yellow Wallpaper". Housework simply is not productive work. She advocated for professionalization of traditional female jobs such as cooking and childcare, thus calling for economic independence for women.