Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1925-1993: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN

( 1860-1935), social reformer, lecturer, and writer/ editor

DALE M. BAUER AND MARY V. MARCHAND

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is perhaps best known today for her remarkable fiction narratives, The Yellow Wallpaper and Herland, which are now part of the American literature canon and are considered the most challenging of early feminist fiction. The Yellow Wallpaper has been hailed and marketed as one of the best American short stories, first by William Dean Howells and later by feminist critics; Herland has been described as "a lost feminist utopian novel" bound to appeal to readers of socialist and science fiction ( Lane, intro., 1979). In her day, however, her reputation as a public speaker and an editor of first The Impress (lasting twenty weeks in 1894) and then The Forerunner, the magazine she wrote and edited from 1909 through 1916, far outstripped her fame as a writer of fiction. Her journalism ran in popular magazines and newspapers, as did most of her short fiction. The majority of her work was serialized in The Forerunner, where her editorials, book reviews, poetry, fiction, and commentary appeared after she tested her ideas in the public forums of the lecture hall, the woman's club, Nationalist organizations, and the various Women's Congresses and National American Woman Suffrage Association conventions.

As Perkins Gilman wrote in her autobiography, she spoke from New Orleans to Oregon"and everywhere between. . . . To have traversed one's country from side to side, top to bottom and corner to corner, for thirty-six years, gives one a fair working knowledge of it" ( Living, 1990:294). She drew on that extensive knowledge of the country and its people to become one of the best known women orators of the twentieth century.


BACKGROUND

Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman, niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catharine Beecher and a member of the famous Beecher family, was the younger

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