Charlotte Perkins Gilman Biography

by Marie-Michèle Raîche

Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman was born in 1860, July 3rd, in Hartford, Connecticut. Her family wasn't a rich one; moreover, her father, Frederik Beecher Perkins (a novelist and a librarian), left them when Gilman was still a young girl. As a result of this, her mother, Mary Fitch Wescott Perkins, had to move with her children 19 times in 18 years, from one temporary lodging to another. Because of all this moving, Charlotte only had four years of formal education; however, she educated herself by reading a lot of books, some of them sent by her father. At the end of her teens, she began to give drawing and painting courses and to produce original advertising cards for a company named Kendall Manufacturing.

Gilman married an American artist, Charles Walter Stetson, at 21 years old, even though she had once vowed not to marry. One year later, she gave birth to a little girl, Katharine, but Gilman suffered a depression after her birth. In 1888, Gilman and Stetson separated and then she moved to California with her daughter. "Gilman became more active in social reform movements, promoting an end to capitalism and advancing the peaceful, progressive, ethical, and democratic improvement for the human race."(Literary Encyclopaedia p1) Gilman became an active defender of women's rights. While she was in California, in 1892, one of her best work, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" was published in a New England magazine

She continued to published poems and short stories in popular magazines. She became the president of the Pacific Coast Women's Press Association's and not longer after, in 1894, the editor of Impress, which was the newspaper of the association. The unfortunate part of it was that four months later the newspaper shut down because of the readers who did not want a divorced woman as the editor. Therefore, she spent the next years to lecture at women's congresses in England and United States.

Then, in 1898, Gilman published another good book to protest women economic dependency on men, Women and Economics.

In 1900, she married one of her cousins, George Houghton Gilman. During the next years, she produced many other non-fiction works and continued to lecture in congresses of over five different countries.

In 1909, she produced and published her own magazine, The Forerunner. She handled alone all the work involved in producing a magazine. The Forerunner contained "non-fiction works, short stories, essays, poems, reviews, and editorials."(Cyclopaedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition) So, she published a lot of her work within this magazine, especially Herland, which was an utopian romance.

Thirteen years later, Gilman and her husband moved back to Connecticut, where she wrote "His Religion and Hers", in which she invented a religion without patriarchal values. In 1932, she discovered that she had incurable breast cancer.

In 1934, George Houghton Gilman died from a cerebral haemorrhage. The year after, Charlotte Perkins Gilman moved to California to be nearer her daughter and committed suicide, at  the age of seventy five, by consuming chloroform. She left a note in which she wrote "I have preferred chloroform to cancer". Like many authors some of her work appeared only after her death; for example, Unpunished, a detective novel, and The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, her autobiography.

Most people forgot Gilman, but twenty five years later there was a revived interest in her work because of the feminist movement.


Cyclopaedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition c 2004 by Salem Press, Inc. November 18th 2007. (Literary Reference Centre)


Literary Encyclopaedia; 2005 People, p1. November 18th 2007.

(Literary Reference Centre)


Unknown author, "Charlotte Perkins Gilman", 2003

19 Nov. 2007