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Preferred Citation: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Berkeley: University of California Press, Exactly a century ago, inCharlotte Perkins Gilman's first nonfiction book, Women and Economicswas published to universal acclaim. The book's publication catapulted its year-old author into intellectual celebrity. Almost overnight she became "the leading intellectual in the women's movement. Yet by the mids, she was nearly forgotten, and Women and Economics long out of print.

Thirty years ago, the eminent historian Carl Degler reintroduced Gilman's most distinguished work to a new generation of readers. Degler attributed Gilman's fall from popular view in part to the postsuffrage doldrums in which the American women's movement had found itself since the mids. But he, then perched in Poughkeepsie at Vassar College, sensed the emergent tenor of the times in the years immediately following the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in —a renewed restlessness among American women about the yawning gap between the lives they wanted to live and the.

Degler grasped the need of these increasingly politicized feminist intellectuals for foremothers, mentors who had been there before, wrestled with the same issues.

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Of course, he did not do it alone. After Women and Economics was reissued, Gilman's most famous works of fiction were also rediscovered and republished. Perhaps her most famous short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," which chronicled the descent into madness of a woman when she was prevented from experiencing a vital public life, was anthologized in by Elaine Hedges; in by Gilman's biographer, Ann Lane; in by Lynne Sharon Schwartz; and in by Barbara Solomon.

The most renowned of Gilman's utopian novels, Herlandwhich had only been serialized in her monthly magazine, the Forerunnerinwas republished inand has remained a feminist classic, a touchstone work in which readers are invited to imagine the way society could develop if only there were no men in it.

Despite this recent interest, however, Women and EconomicsGilman's al book, has once again gone out of print. We are reviving it now for its fresh and continuing insight to a generation of feminists and social thinkers poised—as they were when the book was written—on the cusp of a new century.

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Degler's edition of Women and Economics spoke to what a second wave of feminist women wanted—indeed, needed—to read in the s through the early s. Second Wave feminism took its impetus, in part, from Friedan's indictment of the cult of domesticity.

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In her eyes, women had become virtual prisoners of their own homes, unable to work, unable really to have much of a public life at all. These sentiments echoed Gilman's insistence that women's economic independence was the single most important element in their emancipation. By the s, though, women had come to achieve that public presence and even a modicum of that economic independence Gilman advocated.

Introduction to the edition

The walls that had so long kept women out of the public sphere had begun to crumble—as decisively, if not as rapidly or completely, as the deliberate dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Women had entered the professions, the work world, the military and its academies ; women were in the House and the Senate, the statehouse and the courthouse.

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Many American women began to realize that the exodus from their homes to the workplace accomplished only half a revolution, both socially and personally. Many yearned also for the pleasures of motherhood, for family and domestic life.

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Suddenly, "having it all" became the motto of a new wave of American women. Could women have it all?

Women and economics

Could they have the involving, exciting, important careers. Or would they, like Gilman and the women of her generation, have to sacrifice one for the other? Of course, Gilman understood that men face no such painful choice. To a large extent, men already do "have it all"—the careers and the nurturing families to come home to—and the reason those who do have it all do is precisely the reason that women do not.

Listen to how contemporary, how prescient, are Gilman's words from an essay in [2]. We have so arranged life that a man may have a home and family, love, companionship, domesticity, and fatherhood, yet remain an active citizen of age and country. We have so arranged life, on the other hand, that a woman must "choose"; must either live alone, unloved, unaccompanied, uncared for, homeless, childless, with her work in the world for sole consolation; or give up all world-service for the joys of love, motherhood, and domestic service.

Gilman had figured out what contemporary women have also begun to understand—half a revolution was no revolution at all; if women were simply going to trade their kitchen aprons for power suits, they would remain unfulfilled in partial, gender. In that sense, as well, Gilman understood that men were going to have to be a necessary element in the liberation of women. Her analysis stressed the connection between work and home, between the public and private sectors.

She understood that women's maternal nurturing had been overdeveloped, at the cost of the underdevelopment of their abilities for rational and critical thinking and civic participation. By contrast, she argued, men's capacities for success in the public sphere had been overdeveloped, and at the expense of their abilities to care and nurture. Gilman also understood that for the social transformation promised by feminism to succeed, both women and men would have to change, that shifts in one sphere would redound to the other.

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And she believed throughout her life and writing that women's entry into the public arena and the reforms of the family she proposed would be a win-win situation—for both women and men. The public sphere would no longer be deprived of women's particular abilities, and men would also be able to enlarge the possibilities to experience and express the emotional sustenance of family life.

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Gilman ed many of her reform-minded contemporaries in making what are today called "social constructionist" arguments, suggesting that the personality forms we observe have their roots not in some intrinsic, biological predisposition, but are. She argued that it was not women's "nature" to be passive, weak, helpless, and dependent, any more than it was man's "nature" to be domineering, aggressive, arrogant, and oppressive.

The woman is narrowed by the home and the man is narrowed by the woman. Fourteen years later, the writer and bohemian radical Floyd Dell echoed these sentiments in an essay entitled "Feminism for Men. It made the home, as he put it, "a little dull. When you have got a woman in a box, and you pay rent on the box, her relationship to you insensibly changes character.

It loses the fine excitement of democracy.

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It ceases to be companionship, for companionship is only possible in a democracy. It is no longer a sharing of life together—it is a breaking of life apart.

Half a life—cooking, clothes, Lady wants sex Perkins children; half a life—. It doesn't make much difference which is the poorer half. Any half, when it comes to life, is very near to none at all. Feminism, Dell concluded, was "going to make it possible for the first time for men to be free. But in other ways, Gilman completely departed from her contemporaries. For one thing, she disavowed the term "feminism," preferring in its place a vaguer, yet more inclusive term, "humanism. Where she was graphic and concrete about the reforms of the home, many other thinkers remained nostalgic or romantic.

On the other hand, where these other writers were graphic and concrete, Gilman was often elliptical, evasive, and downright negative. Especially about sex. Dell and other bohemian radicals at the turn of the century preached "free love," and sexual liberation born of a peculiar reading of Freudian psychology. Gilman repudiated Freud, and came pretty close—repeatedly, in various works and several genres—to denouncing sexual pleasure altogether.

Still, Gilman predicted that changes were in the offing at the turn of the twentieth century, and em. Who would have predicted it would take the entire century to begin to free women from the home, and that the transformation of men's lives would be only a glimmer of possibility by the century's end? So now, poised as we are at the edge of a new millennium, fired once again by the possibilities of transformation that would allow women and men to live full, rich, nourishing lives—both as productive workers and as caring and loving partners and parents—we can again rediscover Women and Economicsand find that both Gilman's analysis of the relations between women and men, and her hopes for their transformation, may yet, again, speak to us.

With the republication of her autobiography ina major biography published inand the republication of many of her books, the story of Gilman's life is fairly well known. She was born Charlotte Anna Perkins on July 3,in Hartford, Connecticut, to one of the nineteenth century's most prominent families. Despite their prominence, however, Charlotte's father was a ne'er-do-well and a dilettante.

He attended Yale but never graduated, studied law but never practiced, and abandoned the family soon after Charlotte's birth, returning only for occasional visits before the couple formally divorced in Charlotte had one older brother, Thomas.

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Two other siblings died in their first year. That fall, Charlotte moved into a female-dominated household in Providence, consisting of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and she began to attend young ladies' school. Never particularly feminine—she was physically strong and vigorous, and was passionate about sports—Charlotte first thought to be an artist, and entered the newly opened Rhode Island School of De in Family problems intervened, and she left school without graduating; her early training, however, provided her with the basis to earn a living as a commercial artist.

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Early inshe met Charles Walter Stetson, a promising young artist in Providence. Their courtship was difficult and turbulent. Charlotte had resolved to remain single and devote herself to her career. As she wrote in her autobiography: [5].

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On the one hand I knew it was normal and right in general, and held that a woman should be able to have marriage and motherhood, and. On the other, I felt strongly that for me it was not right, that the nature of the life before me forbade it, that I ought to forgo the more intimate personal happiness for complete devotion to my work.

Nevertheless, soon she capitulated to Walter's earnest courtship. They were married in May The marriage was ill fated from the start. Despite Walter's efforts—he was attentive and dutiful, and even, she says, helped with the housework—Charlotte felt torn between marital obligations and the lure of her career.

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The tension only redoubled when her daughter, Katherine, was born in March At first, Charlotte was overjoyed by motherhood, but she gradually sank into what she described as a "growing melancholia," a "constant dragging weariness miles below zero. Her emotional distress became increasingly acute.

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