Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Only as we live, think, feel, and work outside the home, do we become humanly developed, civilized, socialized.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3 1860August 17 1935) was an American poet, non-fiction writer, short story writer, novelist, lecturer, and social reformer.


  • The latest and highest form of Feminism has great promise for the world. It postulates womanhood free, strong, clean and conscious of its power and duty.
    • "Feminism" (1908), quoted in Susan Ware, Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote. Harvard University Press, 2019.
  • For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia — and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again" as long as I lived. This was in 1887.
    I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.
    Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist's advice to the winds and went to work again — work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite — ultimately recovering some measure of power.
    Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.
  • Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.
    It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.
    • "Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper" in The Forerunner (October 1913).
  • A normal feminine influence in recasting our religious assumptions will do more than any other one thing to improve the world.
    • His Religion and Hers, (1923).
  • The stony-minded orthodox were right in fearing the first movement of new knowledge and free thought. It has gone on, and will go on, irresistibly, until some day we shall have no respect for an alleged "truth" which cannot stand the full blaze of knowledge, the full force of active thought.
    • The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, (1935).

"The Yellow Wallpaper" (1891)[edit]

Full text online at Wikisource
  • The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.
  • This wallpaper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.
  • I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.
  • There are things in that wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will.
  • You think you have mastered it [the wallpaper pattern], but just as you get well under way in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you.
  • It becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the women behind it is as plain as can be. I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman. By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still.
  • Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out. The front pattern does move-and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!

In this Our World : Poems (1898)[edit]

  • A million million worlds that move in peace;
    A million mighty laws that never cease;
    And one small ant-heap, hidden by small weeds,
    Rich with eggs, slaves and store of millet-seeds.
    They sleep beneath the sod
    And trust in God.
    • A Common Inference.
  • Said I, in scorn all burning hot,
    In rage and anger high,
    "You ignominious idiot,
    Those wings are made to fly!"
    • A Conservative.
  • I do not want to be a fly,
    I want to be a worm!
    • A Conservative.

Women and Economics (1898)[edit]

  • The labor of women in the house, certainly, enables men to produce more wealth than they otherwise could; and in this way women are economic factors in society. But so are horses.
    • Ch. 1.
  • Where young boys plan for what they will achieve and attain, young girls plan for whom they will achieve and attain.
  • There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. As well speak of a female liver.
    • Ch. 8.
  • To-day there is hardly a woman of intelligence in all America, to say nothing of other countries, who is not definitely and actively concerned in some social interest, who does not recognize some duty besides those incident to her own blood relationship.
    • Ch. 8.
  • Only as we live, think, feel, and work outside the home, do we become humanly developed, civilized, socialized.
    • Ch. 10.
  • The mother as a social servant instead of a home servant will not lack in true mother duty.... From her work, loved and honored though it is, she will return to her home life, the child life, with an eager, ceaseless pleasure, cleansed of all the fret and fraction and weariness that so mar it now.
    • Ch. 13.

Quotes about Charlotte Perkins Gilman[edit]

  • I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" [by Charlotte Perkins Gilman] and found another example of a woman who was locked away by her husband because she was different from other women-too strong, too assertive, and a writer. The captivity drives her mad, too.
  • The theory that women had been members of a subject sex throughout long history, but coupled with a plan for their emancipation by socialism or communism, found expression with increasing force in the United States as the twentieth century advanced. Among the women who expounded this theory of woman none was more influential than Charlotte Perkins Stetson who long before her death in 1935 attained national and international fame as an exponent of a new feminism...In her writings she ranged from light, humorous verse and witty narrative poetry, through articles gravely gay and wholly serious books, to novels. Captivated by Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, published in 1888, Mrs. Stetson discovered in idealistic socialism what she deemed the clue to the emancipation of women and joined the disciples of Bellamy. Henceforward, with growing stress, she dwelt on the economic aspects of the "woman question"...Her belief in woman's long subjection to man was embodied in the following lines, quoted from a poem in her collection entitled In This Our World: "Close, close he bound her, that she should leave him never/Weak still he kept her, lest she be strong to flee;/And the fainting flame of passion he kept alive forever/With all the arts and forces of earth and sky and sea." But the future could be different, she believed. It had been and was woman's economic dependence on man that kept her in thrall. This was Mrs. Gilman's contention, especially, in Woman and Economics. Hence, she concluded, woman - especially the mother as guardian of the social spirit in social evolution - when freed from economic bondage to her mate would achieve liberty and make her "culture" and her "religion" prevail over his culture and his religion. And this economic freedom was to be won through various economic institutions of a collectivist nature, especially a form of cooperative living that would ease, if not abolish, the home drudgery of woman. To the old doctrine, so often advanced by parsons and lay men, that "woman's place is in the home," Mrs. Gilman opposed the doctrine that woman's place is in community and public life. In a poem on the assumption of male prerogatives, she stated the case in boasting words by the male: "I sing to the wide world/And she to the nest." But Mrs. Gilman did not deride singing to the nest. She approved it and gave it social significance. She proposed, however, that henceforward there should be a common singing to the wide world, her idea being that such singing had been done by man alone.
  • So impressed by her writings was W. D. Howells as early as 1902 that he declared: "She has enriched the literary center of New York by the addition of a talent in sociological satire which would be extraordinary even if it were not altogether unrivaled among us."

Anarchist Women, 1870-1920 by Margaret S Marsh (1981)[edit]

  • The anarchist-feminists' denial of gender-based distinctions precluded their use of many of the arguments for equality utilized by the mainstream feminists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...even Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who almost alone among the younger generation of mainstream feminists stressed the similarities between men and women, also on occasion found it necessary or expedient to exploit the concept of a special relationship between woman's biology and her drive for equality. In 1912 Gilman wrote: "We are the makers of men, and because we are the makers of men, it is requisite that we should be citizens of the world we live in."
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman-brilliant, outspoken, and iconoclastic-was both a socialist and a leader of the organized women's rights movement. Undoubtedly the most radical of the second generation of suffrage leaders, she attacked the home and domesticity because of its deadening influence on the female mind and spirit, and she announced her willingness-even eagerness-to abandon the conventional social structure to which most of her sisters in the mainstream feminist movement were committed. Gilman's socialism was non-Marxist; Edward Bellamy, the author of Looking Backward and a sequel, Equality, had influenced her profoundly. Both of Bellamy's utopian visions, but particularly the latter, advocated participation of women in the work force in traditionally masculine occupations such as engineering and the skilled crafts as well as in more conventionally feminine pursuits; economic equality; and the removal of domestic tasks, including child care, to the public realm. Gilman concurred that equality would never be possible without full participation in economic life. And such participation required the socialization of childrearing and domestic tasks. Men and children, as well as women, would benefit under the new arrangement. An economically independent woman would marry for love, and children would grow to maturity in an environment that consisted not merely of an untrained mother's efforts, but of the attention of specialists in child care and education. Although she attacked conventional domestic arrangements, Gilman was not against the family. She argued: "Like all natural institutions the family has a purpose; and is to be measured primarily as it serves that purpose; which is, the care and nurture of the young. To protect the helpless little ones, to feed and shelter them, to ensure them the benefits of an even longer period of immaturity, and so to improve the race-this is the original purpose of the family." Men, she determined, had subverted that purpose: "What man has done to the family, speaking broadly, is to change it from an institution for the best service of the child, to one modified to his own service, the vehicle of his comfort, power and pride." In order to create a mutually rewarding family life a family "based on love and ... maintained because of its happiness and use"-society must destroy the old notion of home." People trained for the tasks of cooking, cleaning, and child care could better perform house-keeping duties than the isolated wife. Women would become free to develop their special talents, and Gilman believed that a free womanhood was necessary to full social development.
  • Gilman, like Bebel and Engels, integrated the causes of labor and feminism; but she altered the priorities: "The great woman's movement and labor movement of today are parts of the same pressure, the same world-progress. An economic democracy must rest on a free womanhood; and a free womanhood inevitably leads to an economic democracy." Gilman's practical device for freeing women before the victory of socialism was the cooperative apartment house, containing common kitchens, laundry facilities, and nurseries, thus liberating the individual couple from the unshared burden of those responsibilities. Her idea never came to fruition, and William O'Neill has suggested that her scheme was inadequate: "Her solution to the problem was largely mechanical, a matter of revised domestic arrangements, which would free women for outside work. The alternative would seem to have been some kind of socialist order that would provide the institutions public nurseries, paid maternity leaves, and the like-necessary to fulfill the promise of feminine emancipation. Surprisingly enough, the key writings of this professed socialist neglected the point. She believed that feminism would have to socialize the home, but she apparently believed it possible to have socialized homes in a capitalist society.... Mrs. Gilman was a socialist and a feminist, yet in her mind the two remained separate and distinct causes. In the end, her failure to integrate them prevented her from fully utilizing the insights she had gained from each."
  • The antidomesticity of Charlotte Perkins Gilman influenced their views on social organization; both Henrietta Rodman and Crystal Eastman tried to encourage the construction of apartment houses based on the Gilmanesque model. Nevertheless, they did not share Gilman's pronounced antierotic biases.

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