Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a self-proclaimed philosopher, writer, educator and an intellectual activist of the women's movement from the late 1890's through the mid-1920's. She demanded equal treatment for women as the best means to advance society's progress. She was an extraordinary woman who waged a lifelong battle against the restrictive social codes for women in late nineteenth-century America.
Mrs. Gilman was born Charlotte Anna Perkins on July 3, 1860, in Providence, Rhode Island. She was the grandniece of Harriet Beecher Stowe. She attributed her lifelong talent for speaking and her writing ability to her Beecher heritage. Most of what Charlotte learned was self-taught, since her formal schooling was only about six or seven years. Gilman believed early on that she was destined to dedicate her life to serving humanity. When her lover unexpectedly proposed, she was suddenly torn between work and marriage. After years of debating whether to marry or not to marry, she consented and to the best of her abilities carried on the traditional roles of wife and mother, only to suffer a nervous breakdown.
When her treatment of total rest drove her close to insanity, she was cured by removing herself physically from her home, husband, and finally her daughter, and by taking part in and writing about the social movements of the day. Later in life she married her first cousin, George Gilman, and again suffered from depression though not as severely as she had suffered throughout her first marriage.
Using her life experiences as a female within a male dominated society, Gilman wanted to redefine womanhood. She declared that women were equal to men in all aspects of life. This new woman she described was to be an intelligent, well-informed and well-educated thinker. She would also be the creator and the expresser of her...