Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Mary Perkins and Frederic Beecher Perkins. During her infancy, her father abandoned the family, leaving them in an impoverished state. As Mary was unable to support the family on her own, Charlotte and her family were often assisted by her father’s aunts, namely Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist, Harriot Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Catharine Beecher, an advocate for women’s education. Surely Gilman’s relationship with her father and his aunts contributed to her feminist views and her career in writing.
In 1884, Gilman married Charles Walter Stetson, an artist. Their only child, Katharine Beecher Stetson, was born the following year. Gilman suffered a serious bout of post-partum depression in the months after Katharine’s birth. Her depression continued and worsened for the following years. In 1887, Gilman wrote in her diary that she was very sick with “some brain disease” to the point that her “mind has given way.” She could not even leave her bed, read, write, sew, talk, or feed herself.
Charlotte entered the care of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a renowned specialist in nervous diseases. Dr. Mitchell prescribed a rest cure and instructed Gilman to have no more than 2 hours of intellectual life per day. He also encouraged her never to write again. Charlotte followed Dr. Mitchell’s advice for a few months, but her depression deepened. According to her husband’s diaries, she began to display suicidal behaviors and talked of pistols and chloroform.
In 1888, Gilman separated from her husband, and the two legally divorced in 1894. Also in 1888, Gilman rejected Dr. Mitchell’s advice and resumed a normal life. It is this return to normality to which Gilman attributes her sanity.
Following her separation from Charles Stetson, Charlotte moved with her daughter to Pasadena, California, where she became active in several feminist organizations, including The Pacific Coast Women’s Press Association, the Woman’s Alliance, the Economic Club, the Ebell Society, the Parents Association, and the State Council of Women. In 1896, she served as a delegate at the Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C.
Gilman’s writing career truly launched in 1890 when she wrote fifteen essays, poems, a novella, and the 6,000-word short story The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper in just two days, on June 6th and 7th, 1890. It was printed a year and a half later in the January 1892 issue of The New England Magazine. Gilman wrote the story to change people’s minds about the role of women in society, illustrating how women’s lack of autonomy is detrimental to their mental, emotional, and even physical well being. The story was inspired by Charlotte’s own experience with depression and rest cures. Dr. Mitchell’s name even makes an appearance once in the text. Gilman sent a copy of the story to Dr. Mitchell; he never responded.
In 1894, Gilman sent her daughter to live with her former husband and his new wife, Grace Ellery Channing, who was a close friend of Gilman. In her memoir, Gilman stated that she was happy for the couple, and that Katherine’s “second mother was fully as good as the first, [and perhaps] better in some ways.”
After her mother died in 1893, Gilman moved back east for the first time in eight years. She contacted Houghton Gilman, her first cousin, whom she had not seen in roughly fifteen years. They began spending a significant amount of time together and became romantically involved. They were married in 1900. Gilman continued her career as a writer during their marriage, and in 1909 she single-handedly wrote and edited her own magazine, The Forerunner. Over seven years and 2 months, the magazine produced eighty-six issues and featured serialized works including What Diantha Did (1910), The Crux (1911), Moving the Mountain (1911), Herland (1915), and With Her in Our Land (1916).
Charlotte’s second husband died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1934, at which time she moved back to Pasadena to be closer to her daughter. In January 1932, Gilman was diagnosed with inoperable breast cancer. An advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill, Gilman committed suicide on August 17, 1935 by taking an overdose of chloroform. Her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was published posthumously in 1935.
Though not her first or longest work, The Yellow Wallpaper is definitely the most celebrated work of Gilman’s long career. Since its initial printing, The Yellow Wallpaper has been anthologized in numerous collections of women’s literature, American literature, and textbooks. It has inspired two radio plays, several stage adaptations, four short films, two feature length films, a T.V. movie which aired as part of Masterpiece Theatre, and even an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Something in the Walls.”
- More Information About the Production
- Read Gilman’s Original Short Story, The Yellow Wallpaper
- “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- “Why I Adapted The Yellow Wallpaper” by Jeff Davis
- BroadwayWorld-Austin’s Interview with Jeff Davis Regarding the Development of The Yellow Wallpaper
- Download The Yellow Wallpaper Wallpaper