Other info : Career | Bibliography
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.
Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut, to Mary Perkins (formerly Mary Fitch Westcott) and Frederic Beecher Perkins. She had only one brother, Thomas Adie, who was fourteen months older, because a physician advised Mary Perkins that she might die if she bore other children. During Charlotte's infancy, her father moved out and abandoned his wife and children, leaving them in an impoverished state. Since their mother was unable to support the family on her own, the Perkinses were often in the presence of aunts on her father's side of the family, namely Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist, Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and Catharine Beecher.
At the age of five, Gilman taught herself to read because her mother was ill. Her mother was not affectionate with her children. To keep them from getting hurt as she had been, she forbade her children to make strong friendships or read fiction. In her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gilman wrote that her mother showed affection only when she thought her young daughter was asleep. Although she lived a childhood of isolated, impoverished loneliness, she unknowingly prepared herself for the life that lay ahead by frequently visiting the public library and studying ancient civilizations on her own. Additionally, her father's love for literature influenced her, and years later he contacted her with a list of books he felt would be worthwhile for her to read.
Much of Gilman's youth was spent in Providence, Rhode Island. What friends she had were mainly male, and she was unashamed to call herself a "tomboy." She attended seven different public schools, and was a correspondent student of the Society to Encourage Studies at Home but studied only until she was fifteen. Her natural intelligence and breadth of knowledge always impressed her teachers, who were nonetheless disappointed in her because she was a poor student. Her favorite subject was "natural philosophy," especially what later become known as physics. In 1878, the eighteen-year-old enrolled in classes at the Rhode Island School of Design with the monetary help of her absent father, and subsequently supported herself as an artist of trade cards. She was a tutor, and encouraged others to expand their artistic creativity. She was also a painter.