Anna Perkins Stetson Gilman was a prominent American short story
and non-fiction writer, novelist, commercial artist, lecturer and
feminist social reformer. She is mainly known today for her short
story The Yellow Wallpaper, based on her own bout with mental illness
and misguided medical treatment.
was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Mary Perkins
(formerly Mary Fitch Westcott) and Frederic Beecher Perkins, a
well-known librarian, magazine editor, and nephew of Harriet Beecher
Stowe. Her father was rarely home, leaving his wife and daughter
with his progressive aunts Harriet Beecher Stowe, Catherine Beecher,
and Isabella Beecher Hooker.
studying for two years at the Rhode Island School of Design, she
supported herself as a greeting-card artist. She married Charles
Walter Stetson, a fellow artist, in 1884. Her only child, Katharine
Beecher Stetson was born in 1884. During this time and throughout
her life she suffered from depression, which influenced her writing.
She separated from her husband in 1888, divorcing him in 1894.
After her divorce, her daughter was brought up by her best friend
Grace Ellery Channing, who became Stetson's wife.
her separation from her first husband, she and her daughter moved
to California, where she was active in organizing social reform
and feminist groups. She lectured across the country and in the
United Kingdom. She lived intimately with Adeline Knapp, a San
Francisco newspaper reporter who shared her interests in social
reform and the Nationalist Club based on Edward Bellamy's utopian
second marriage, from 1900 to his death in 1934, was to her first
cousin, George Houghton Gilman, a lawyer in New York City. In
her letters to her cousin, she worried that her letters to Knapp
would be published and cause a scandal. In 1922, she moved from
New York to Norwich, Connecticut, where she wrote His Religion
and Hers. Ten years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After her husband died in 1934, she moved back to Pasadena, California
to be closer to her daughter. Suffering from inoperable breast
cancer, she committed suicide on August 17, 1935, by inhaling
first book In This Our World was published in 1893. Following
that, in 1898 she published her better-known Women and Economics.
In 1892, her best-known literary work, The Yellow Wallpaper, was
published. From the early 1890s she gained fame from her lectures
and articles, many of which were published in her monthly journal,
the Forerunner, in circulation from 1909 to 1916. In 1915 she
serialized her novel Herland in The Forerunner.
soaring, imaginative minds of men, constructing lofty, shimmering
piles of abstract thought, and taking as their postulate a revelation
from God, gaveus relgions which coule not possible maintained
without belief and obedience: ... we find them most permanent
and changeless among people who make the least effort to swquare
their beliefs with the laws of life."
we once admit that our life is here for the purpose of race-improvement,
then we question any religion which does not improve the race,
or the main force of which evaporates, as it were, directing our
best efforts toward the sky.... Improvement in the human race
is not accomplished by extracting any number of souls and placing
them in heaven, or elsewhere. It must be established on earth,
either through achievement in social service, or through better
us inquire] what glory there was in an omnipotent being torturing
forever a puny little creature who could in no way defend himself?
Would it be to the glory of a man to fry ants?"
religion after another has accepted and perpetuated man's original
mistake in making a private servant of the mother of the race."
normal feminine influence in recasting our religious assumptions
will do more than any other one thing to improve the world."
would have been the effect upon religion if it had come to us
through the minds of women?"
grovel and "worship" and pray to God to do what we ourselves
ought to have done a thousand years ago, and can do now, as soon
as we choose."
peculiarity of all death-based religions is that their subject-matter
is entirely outside of facts. Men could think and think, talk
and argue, advance, deny, assert, and controversy, and write innumerable
books, without being hampered at any time by any fact....
Thus we have almost from the beginning the assertion of authority
which it was impossible to disprove, a sin to doubt, an indiscretion
even to consider. Then, with this arbitrary basis, the minds of
men soared happily in unbridled conjecture, and built up colossal
systems of thought, racial "complexes" or states of
mind, which were imposed upon the world. Each ancient religion
has its form of established church, its priesthood or clergy,
its temples and system of ceremonies; and each, as a social phenomenon,
stand in history as a social complex, "a state of mind,"
a system of ceremonies, rather than as an agent of improvement."
"One and all,
religions have their original prophets, their sacred books, their
traditions of ages gone. One and all require us to accept without
question what other people long dead have said or written; to
obey without question the commands of those behind us.... No matter
what the belief, if it had modestly said, "This is our best
thought, go on, think farther!" then we could have smoothly
outgrown our early errors and long since have developed a religion
such as would have kept pace with an advancing world. But we were
made to believe and not allowed to think. We were told to obey,
rather than to experiment and investigate."