Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (1860–1935)
Gilman was born on 3 July 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut, and died on 17 August 1935 in Pasadena, California. Known worldwide as a feminist theorist and a generally iconoclastic social critic, Gilman was a major intellectual force in America at the turn of the 20th century. Largely self-educated, problems with her first marriage led her to separate from her first husband and begin an unconventional freelance life based in California, earning her living from her lecturing and writing. Women and Economics (1898) was her first book-length exposition of her theory of the evolution of gender relations. Influenced by the ideas of Edward Bellamy, Lester Frank Ward, Darwin, the Webbs and G. Bernard Shaw, she explained that human institutions (like the species itself) has evolved over time, favouring the survival of the best adapted. A major exception, however, was the definition of ‘women’s place’. Here social development had been frozen by Tradition. Women were confined to households which were no longer the locus of any socially productive activity, since now the factory produced the needed consumption goods, and children were better raised in schools, by professionals. The role of full-time housewife and mother had become anachronistic, reducing women to the state of social parasites. As she also argued in her 1903 classic The Home that, for their own progress and for the progress of human civilization overall, women would have to leave these domestic prisons and take up socially useful work in the larger world of production. In the articles and didactic fiction that she wrote for her monthly magazine the Forerunner, she developed a wide range of startlingly rational ideas for social reorganization.