Darwinism and Feminism: The ‘Woman Question’ in the Life and Work of Olive Schreiner and Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Rosaleen Love
Part of the Australasian Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 2)


One feature of Darwinism which is often stressed is the variety of ways in which the evolutionary metaphor was exploited in the years following the acceptance of the broad features of Darwin’s biological theory. In particular, the interaction between biological and social theories has attracted the attention of contemporary historians, from Richard Hofstadter in 1945, to Greta Jones in 1980.1 In a recent study, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought, Robert C. Bannister surveyed the variety of interpretations historians have given to the phrase ‘Social Darwinism’, from ‘the name loosely given to the application to society of the doctrine of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest’, to the broader meaning of ‘the more general adaptation of Darwinian and related biological concepts to social ideologies’.2 Historians have rightly pointed to the protean nature of the concept: the varieties of social prescriptions and descriptions, each claiming an evolutionary validity, seemed to rival the numbers of biological species in richness and diversity. The evolutionary world picture, once accepted, changed the vision of several generations of men and women in such a way that they were able to look around them and see confirming instances of their social theorizing everywhere. The social world seemed full of verifications of biological theories.3


Australian Economist African Woman African Farm Woman Suffrage Woman Question 
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  1. Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (London, 1963), p. 35.Google Scholar
  2. C. Perkins Gilman, Human Work (New York, 1904), p. 7, p. 104.Google Scholar
  3. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Man-Made World: Or, Our Androcentric Culture (London, 1911), p. 26 and p. 250.Google Scholar
  4. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (New York, 1935), pp. 38-39.Google Scholar
  5. C. Perkins Gilman, Human Work (New York, 1904), p. 7, p. 104.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosaleen Love
    • 1
  1. 1.Swinburne Institute of TechnologyAustralia

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