Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born, Charlotte Anna Perkins. She was born July 3, 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut. Her father Frederick Beecher Perkins, a magazine editor frequently left the family for long periods of time. Charlotte would often spend time with her greataunts, Catherine Beecher, advocate of "domestic feminism", Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist, who was a supporter of women's right to vote, and Harriet Beecher Stower, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In 1884, at the age of 24, Gilman married Charles W. Stetson, a local artist. Soon after, the birth of her first child, Gilman suffered from a near nervous breakdown. This experience led her to move to California, get a divorce, and leave her daughter in the care of her ex-husband. In California, Gilman who was poor, turned to writing as a way of earning money.
Gilman wrote poetry, and short stories, among them "The Yellow Wallpaper," which later became a feminist classic. Among her poetry, and fiction short stories, Gilman wrote many non-fiction stories. Her best known work is Women and Economics,(1898) which argues that sexual and maternal roles of women have been over emphasized to the detriment of their social and economical potential, and that only economic independence could bring true freedom.
Gilman, became well known for her lectures on women's topics. She emerged as a spokesperson on such topics as women's perspectives on work and family. She believed that men and women should share the responsibility of housework, and that women should be encouraged from a very early age, to be independent and to work for themselves.
In 1900 Gilman married George Houghton Gilman, her first cousin, and continued to write. During this period she wrote essays, such as Human Work(1904), and The Man-Made World (1911), in which she asserted that women should work outside of the home, fully using their abilities for the benefit of society and for their own satisfaction. From 1909 to 1916, Gilman founded, edited, and wrote for the journal Forerunner. Gilman, also co-founded the Women's Peace Party in 1915 with activist Jane Addams.
Gilman died on August 17, 1935, in Pasadena, California. She was 75 years old. After learning that she suffered from inoperable cancer, Gilman took her own life. She wrote in a final note that "when one is assured of unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and horrible one." Many modern feminist non-fiction works reflect Gilman's, and readers are rediscovering that her ideas are relevant to contemporary problems.
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Fall Semester 1998. Last modified: December 14, 1998