Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

She is best known today for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a semi-autobiographical account of a severe bout of postpartum psychosis. She was a Utopian Feminist (women’s suffrage as well as women’s economic independence) and a prominent sociologist, novelist, writer of short-stories, non-fiction and poetry. Her book “Women and Economics : A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution,” was published in 1898 and considered by many her greatest work. Her contention was that humans were the only species in which women were dependent upon the male for survival. They paid for this dependence through domestic services of “sex functions”. Here belief that this awkward distribution of power within the sex roles were detrimental to both genders. Her novel “Herland” published in 1915 is a utopian novel describing an isolated society entirely of women who reproduced asexually and thus had an idea social order – free of war, conflict and domination. Perhaps her greatest literary achievement was self-publishing a magazine, “The Forerunner”, for seven years (1909-1916), she wrote the entirety of every issue – editorials, critical articles, book reviews, essays, poems, stories, and six serialized novels including “Herland” and the sequel “With Her In Ourland.”

She married twice, separating from her first husband in 1888 and finally divorcing 1894. She bore one child with her first husband, Katherine. She married her second husband in 1900 and they remained happily married until 1934 when he died of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. In 1932 she learned she had incurable breast cancer. She was an advocate for the right-to-die and thus on August 17th, 1935 she committed suicide by taking an overdose of chloroform. Both her autobiography and suicide note stated she “chose chloroform over cancer.” One of her more famous quotes comes from her suicide note…

“Human life consists in mutual service. No grief, pain, misfortune, or broken heart, is excuse for cutting off one’s life while any power of service remains. But when all usefulness is over, when one is assured of an 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.”
~ Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.”

 

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