Author, feminist, and social reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born on this day in 1860. Since her father was absent for most of her childhood, Gilman often spent her time visiting her great aunts, the famous Beecher sisters: author Harriet Beecher Stowe, education reformer Catherine Beecher and suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker.
Between her aunts’ influence and the financial hardships she experienced as a child due to her father’s abandonment, Gilman developed a strong, independent personality of her own and became a lifelong advocate for women’s financial independence and their right to work outside the home — concepts that defied the conventions of Victorian culture that permeated late 19th century America. Gilman often found herself at odds with Victorian social mores. Her most famous work of fiction, the semi-autobiographical short story The Yellow Wallpaper, describes a housewife’s descent into madness after being prescribed the (now-infamous) Victorian “bed rest cure” that severely limited a woman’s physical activity and intellectual stimulation — a regimen Gilman suffered through as a treatment for postpartum depression following the birth of her only daughter.
Gilman remained a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction works throughout her life and was an outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage and equality of the sexes. In 1898, she published Women and Economics, wherein she argued that “the economic independence and specialization of women as essential to the improvement of marriage, motherhood, domestic industry, and racial improvement.” Today, Charlotte Perkins Gilman is widely celebrated as a pioneering feminist writer of the late 19th century. She was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
Amy Gagnon, “Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” connecticuthistory.org
“From Woman to Human: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University
“Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame