Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman (1860-1935)


Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman, feminist, lecturer, and radical economic theorist, wrote Women and Economics (1898), a “feminist manifesto” of far-reaching significance that argued for woman’s economic independence -- freeing women from economic dependence on a husband and marriage. The radical re-structuring of society needed to achieve that goal, detailed further in her many books and articles, entailed social change potentially more radical than winning the vote, which she supported. She married and had a daughter, but suffered a nervous breakdown. After divorcing, she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), a wrenching description of her emotional breakdown. She foresaw modern woman’s dilemma of balancing work, family, and personal life – a dilemma modern American society has yet to resolve.

Gilman suffered a traumatic and poverty-stricken childhood, but read ethics and philosophy to gain control of her life. After divorcing Charles Stetson, she embarked on a life of lecturing and writing. An impressive speaker with ironic wit, her theory held that, unlike other species, the human female had become weak and totally dependent on the male for food and shelter, causing over-development of her sexual and maternal nature. Gilman’s remedy was to free women to earn their own money by setting up cooperative households with centralized nurseries and cooperative kitchens. At 40 she married her cousin George Gilman, but continued her work. She co-founded, with Jane Addams, the Woman’s Peace Party (1915). She suffered from breast cancer, and took her own life, resolving not to be incapacitated or a burden to her family. 


Works Cited:

  • Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Rights for Women"
    Author Kristina Gupta
  • PHOTO: Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman, Carrie Chapman Catt Collection, Bryn Mawr College Library