Considers Gilman’s place in American literary and social history by examining her relationships to other prominent intellectuals of her era
By placing Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the company of her contemporaries, this collection seeks to correct misunderstandings of the feminist writer and lecturer as an isolated radical. Gilman believed and preached that no life is ever led in isolation; indeed, the cornerstone of her philosophy was the idea that “humanity is a relation.”
Gilman's highly public and combative stances as a critic and social activist brought her into contact and conflict with many of the major thinkers and writers of the period, including Mary Austin, Margaret Sanger, Ambrose Bierce, Grace Ellery Channing, Lester Ward, Inez Haynes Gillmore, William Randolph Hearst, Karen Horney, William Dean Howells, Catharine Beecher, George Bernard Shaw, and Owen Wister. Gilman wrote on subjects as wide ranging as birth control, eugenics, race, women's rights and suffrage, psychology, Marxism, and literary aesthetics. Her many contributions to social, intellectual, and literary life at the turn of the 20th century raised the bar for future discourse, but at great personal and professional cost.
Famous for her short fiction—most notably “The Yellow Wallpaper”—Charlotte Perkins Gilman also produced a vast body of nonfiction in tandem with her work as a Progressive-era feminist reformer. Rooted in groundbreaking research on Gilman’s extensive correspondence, publications, and speeches, this keenly argued intellectual biography reconstructs her controversial output and the heady context in which she produced it.
Judith Allen provides the first comprehensive assessment of Gilman’s complicated feminism by exploring the renowned writer’s theories of sexuality and evolutionary analyses of androcentric—or male-dominated—culture. These ideas, Allen shows, informed Gilman’s many contributions to the suffrage movement, the fight to abolish regulated prostitution, and efforts to legalize birth control. Restoring a previously overlooked public intellectual to her preeminent place in Progressive-era politics and the history of feminism at home and abroad, Allen’s landmark study provides the fullest account available of Gilman’s consequential life and profoundly influential work.