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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Optimist Reformer

Jill Rudd, Val Gough

Publication Year: 1999

“These essays exemplify all the virtues of interdisciplinarity in consideration of that most multidisciplined of writers, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The contributors simultaneously clarify and complicate our understanding of some of the more vexed areas of Gilman's work by engaging saliently with her theories of ethnicity, class, prostitution, and the dynamics of gender; posing difficult questions to contemporary feminist scholars; and providing sensitive and insightful guidance to a well-chosen and wide range of texts.”—Janet Beer, author of Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. Cover -ii

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xx

In the final entry of her 1890 diary Charlotte Perkins Gilman records the year as one of ‘‘great growth and gain. My whole literary reputation dates within it – mainly from ‘Similar Cases.’ Also the dawn of my work as lecturer.’’ 1 Although she had received a sporadic income from other pursuits, such as teaching or painting, from this date Gilman made her modest living from her abilities to lecture in a way which not only entertained and educated her audiences but also challenged them. Known to her contemporaries ...

Gilman and Feminism

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pp. 1-2

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Rights of Women Her Legacy for the 1990s

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pp. 4-15

When I finished the biography of the woman I came to think of as ‘‘my Charlotte’’ – a phrase that opens my text – I thought I was finished forever with her. But I had not anticipated two reactions: first, how hard it would be for me to give her up, and, second, how much extraordinary interest in her work would be generated in the years ahead, enough to merit a Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society and a Charlotte Perkins Gilman Newsletter, which reports on many activities around the nation from a variety ...

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The Intellectualism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman Evolutionary Perspectives on Race,Ethnicity, and Class

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pp. 16-41

As a social theorist Charlotte Perkins Gilman placed the issue of women’s economic oppression at the center of her arguments for social reform. Scholarship on Gilman has not been abundant, but over the last forty years – and especially since the 1970s – critics have drawn attention to the influence of her gender-rooted economic theories both on the American feminist movement ...

Women, Work, and the Home

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pp. 42-44

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‘‘What a Comfort a Woman Doctor Is!’’ Medical Women in the Life and Writing of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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pp. 45-94

By the last third of the nineteenth century, as more than one historian has noted, agitation in favor of opening the medical profession to women, both in the United States and in Great Britain, had advanced to the forefront of the larger insurgency on behalf of women’s rights. According to Richard Shryrock, for example, ‘‘Feminists at large saw in the admittance of women to medicine ...

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Three Women Work, Marriage, and the Old(er) Woman

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pp. 74-92

The writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman were familiar to the British women’s suffrage movement, featured in recitations at events and reviewed in the movement’s newspapers. This essay is concerned with a comparative analysis of the published text of Gilman’s one-act play Three Women and the prompt copy of a production of the play in London in November 1912 for a women’s suffrage organization.1 As Marie Farr notes, there are several texts ...

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Home Is Where the Heart Is – Or Is It? Three Women and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Theory of the Home

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pp. 93-110

Contemporary scholars of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work examine her fiction – especially the short story ‘‘The Yellow Wallpaper’’ – occasionally her poetry, but rarely, and then only glancingly, her drama. Yet some of her most radical ideas are embodied in her plays. Scholars, as Joanne B. Karpinski points out, have also been interested in her ‘‘relationships to other ...

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Kitchenless Houses and Homes Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Reform of Architectural Space

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pp. 111-126

In the second half of the nineteenth century, many feminists devoted a great deal of attention to architecture, the divisions of space, and the intersections of space and gender. These feminists raised fundamental questions about what was called the private, or woman’s, sphere and the relationship of the private sphere to the constructed architectural spaces that supported and helped create the private and public spheres. As Dolores Hayden ...

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Educational Reform

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pp. 127-147

Within the last twenty-five years, a great deal of attention has been paid to the topic of gender discrepancy in education. From the psychological studies of Carol Gilligan to the philosophical writings of Nannerl Keohane, feminists and nonfeminists alike have been critical of the ways in which our young are taught.1 As the works of Lawrence Cremin attest, Americans have always been ...

Motherhood and Reproduction

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pp. 148-150

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Consumption, Production, and Reproduction in the Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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pp. 151-172

The cycle of consumption, production, and reproduction is rarely analyzed in its entirety. While both liberal economists and Marxists view production as a public activity that warrants critical scrutiny, they consider consumption and reproduction to be private activities that are largely determined by production. When defined in this way, consumption and reproduction fall outside the scope of conventional economic analysis. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in contrast, gives consumption and reproduction the same careful attention ordinarily reserved for the production process alone. Her analysis reveals that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’s economic theory ...

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Reconfiguring Vice Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Prostitution, and Frontier Sexual Contracts

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pp. 173-199

Gilman abhorred prostitution: Man . . . has insisted on maintaining another class of women, . . . subservient to his desires; a barren, mischievous unnatural relation, wholly aside from parental purposes, and absolutely injurious to society. . . . Many, under the old mistaken notion of what used to be called ‘‘the social necessity’’ of prostitution, will protest the idea of its extinction. . . . An intelligent and powerful womanhood will put an end to this indulgence of one sex at the expense of the other and to the injury of both. . . . One major cause of the decay of nations is ‘‘the social evil’’ – a thing wholly due to androcentric culture. (Man- Made World, 246–259) ...

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‘‘Fecundate! Discriminate!’’Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Theologizing of Maternity

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pp. 200-216

‘‘Not all the long, loud struggle for ‘women’s rights,’ not the varied voices of the ‘feminist movement,’ and, most particularly, not the behavior of ‘emancipated women,’ have given us any clear idea of the power and purpose of the mother sex.’’ So, somewhat surprisingly, mused Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the theological treatise His Religion and Hers (1923) that she produced late in her career as one of her generation’s foremost speakers for just the feminist movement from which she appeared to be distancing ...

Public and Private Faces

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pp. 217-218

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Hair Today, Shorn Tomorrow? Hair Symbolism, Gender, and the Agency of Self

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pp. 219-242

While Charlotte Perkins Gilman is reasonably well known among sociologists for her biting criticisms of economic and political inequalities between the sexes, sociologists have paid less attention to her novels and lectures. However, her fictional work provides some of the most subtle and rounded parodies of conventional turn-of-the-century femininity and women’s restricted and ultimately debilitating social role. While I do not intend to offer an appraisal or criticism ...

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‘‘Written to Drive Nails With’’Recalling the Early Poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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pp. 243-266

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is best known as the writer of Herland and ‘‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’’ not as a poet; nonetheless, she began her public career as a poet and wrote poetry throughout her life as a means of social criticism.1 In its optimist vision, Gilman’s poetry remains as incisive today as upon its original publication. This is especially true when examining her poetry in light of her feminist theories in Women and Economics, the treatise which

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‘‘But O My Heart’’The Private Poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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pp. 267-284

In 1894, a few months after Charlotte Perkins Stetson (Gilman) published her first volume of poetry, she received a congratulatory letter from William Dean Howells proclaiming her a ‘‘gifted prophetess.’’ ‘‘[The poems] are the wittiest and wisest things that have been written this many a long day and year,’’ Howells wrote. ‘‘You speak with a tongue like a two-edged sword. I rejoice in your gift . . . and wonder how much more you will do with it.’’ 1 Howells didn’t wonder ...

Notes On Contributors

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pp. 285-288


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pp. 289-306


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pp. 307-310

E-ISBN-13: 9781587293108
E-ISBN-10: 1587293102
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877456964
Print-ISBN-10: 0877456968

Page Count: 330
Publication Year: 1999

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, -- 1860-1935 -- Political and social views.
  • Social problems in literature.
  • Optimism in literature.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Feminism and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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