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Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

Writer and women’s rights activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in 1860 in New England. Her family were writers and social reformers. She gave birth to her first child in her mid 20s, but soon after she experienced what she later called ‘a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia - and beyond’. She sought help from famous neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell of Philadelphia, who treated her with his celebrated rest cure. Gilman responded rapidly and gained weight quickly. Mitchell advised her to return to her family, focus on her responsibilities as wife and mother, and stop trying to be a writer. Instead, Gilman divorced her husband, moved to California, and wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, a chilling short story about the rest cure.

Gilman spent her life working with feminists and social reformers. Her non-fiction, notably the bestselling Women and Economics (1898), earned international acclaim. She wrote fiction as well as non-fiction until her death in 1935 - she committed suicide with an overdose of chloroform after fighting breast cancer for several years. Gilman remains celebrated by feminist writers and artists worldwide. The Yellow Wallpaper was later adapted for radio, television, film, stage and dance.

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Bibliography

J Allen, The Feminism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Sexualities, Histories, Progressivism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)

S M Gilbert and S Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979)

Glossary:

Neurology

The study of the functions, anatomy and organic disorders of the nervous system.