The Life and Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an American writer, lecturer, social activist, publisher, and theorist. On July 3rd, 1860, Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Frederic Beecher Perkins and Mary Perkins. Her father was a part of the influential Beecher family, which included Harriet Beecher Stowe. Gilman didn’t have an easy childhood. Growing up, she lived in poverty and constantly moved around because her father left her family when she was still young, leaving her mother to raise two children independently. Due to this, she was not able to get a decent education. However, she reunited with her father when she was 18. With some encouragement from her father, she attended the Rhode Island School of Design for two years. During that time, she supported herself by designing greeting cards and tutoring others.
In May of 1884, Gilman married an artist named Charles Stetson when she was 24. A year into their marriage, she gave birth to a daughter named Katharine Stetson. After the birth, she developed postpartum depression. She was given the rest cure for it and ended up having a complete nervous collapse. In 1888, she separated from her husband and moved to Pasadena, California, with her daughter. This was in a time when women almost never separated from their husbands. She eventually divorced Stetson in 1894 after ten years of marriage. After he remarried, she sent their daughter to live with him and his new wife, who also happened to be a close friend of hers. In 1893, she left California to move to San Francisco. In 1900, Gilman remarried her first cousin, George Houghton Gilman. This marriage lasted until his death in 1934. After her husband’s death, she moved back to California to be with her daughter. In 1932, prior to her husband’s death, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. However, it was terminal and untreatable, and in 1935, she committed suicide by overdosing on chloroform. In her suicide note, she said that she’d rather die by chloroform than suffer due to cancer.
It was after she first moved to California that Gilman began writing. She wrote poems, short stories, novels, lectures, articles, and non-fiction works. She published her first poem in the year 1890. That same year, she also wrote multiple essays, a novella, and a short story titled The Yellow Wallpaper. The Yellow Wallpaper, which wasn’t published until two years later, would go on to become her most successful and best-known work of literature. In 1893, she published a book of poems and verses called In This Our World. In the 1890s, she started lecturing on labor, ethics, and women’s rights. She was also a delegate to the International Socialist and Labor Congress in London in 1896. In 1898, she published a manifesto called Women and Economics. It was a “radical call for economic independence for women” where she “dissected with keen intelligence much of the romanticized convention surrounding contemporary ideas of womanhood and motherhood” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman). Her other books include Concerning Children, The Home, What Diantha Did, The Man-Made World, The Crux, Moving the Mountain, His Religion, and Hers and Herland. From 1909 to 1916, she also ran a magazine called The Forerunner, in which she published many of her own stories. She would later write hundreds of essays and articles for other magazines and publications, as well. During the 1920s, Gilman began writing an autobiography titled The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography. However, it wasn’t published until after she died.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman is remembered as one of the greatest writers in American literature. Her works are bestsellers, and many have achieved fame internationally. She has won numerous awards for many of her works, including her most famous work, The Yellow Wallpaper. Throughout her entire life, Gilman
wrote over a thousand different works of literature, including poems, short stories, novels, lectures, articles, and non-fiction works. She spent 5 years doing national lecture tours. She was a highly sought-after lecturer throughout her lifetime. In the year 1993, Gilman was named the sixth most influential woman of the 20th century. The following year, in 1994, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
She is considered one of America’s first feminists and a role model for feminists today. She was a supporter of women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement. Feminism was a big part of most of her works of literature. The Yellow Wallpaper, which she wrote in only two days, is considered an influential work of feminist literature and gothic literature.
Gilman was very progressive for her time. She believed that women should be treated equally to men and shouldn’t be held down by society’s expectations for them to simply just be housewives and mothers. Her works reflected these beliefs. Her works have helped to influence women’s rights. During the final years of her life, Gilman’s literary reputation began to decline. However, in the 1960s, the popularity and recognition of her works were rekindled due to the women’s rights movement. While her works are not as detailed or intricate as other writers’ might be, they are much more riveting and thought-provoking. She wrote about what she believed in and what she thought of the world she lived in. The Yellow Wallpaper, for example, was based on her own experience with the rest cure and was meant to point out the flaws and harmfulness of the treatment.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman will forever be remembered for her influential works and her commitment to women’s rights. Her works are studied in many literature courses in schools today because of her intriguing writing style and the thought-provoking content within her works. Despite the fact that she never actually received a complete, well-rounded education, Gilman became one of America’s greatest writers. She significantly contributed to American literature, women’s rights, and equality.