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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (1860-1935)
"The stony-minded orthodox were right in fearing the first movement of new knowledge and free thought. It has gone on, and will go on, irresistibly, until some day we shall have no respect for an alleged "truth" which cannot stand the full blaze of knowledge, the full force of active thought."

-- Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Charlotte 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.

Gilman 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.

After 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.

After 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 vision.

Her 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 chloroform.

Her 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.

Quotations

"The 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."

"If 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 children."

"[Let 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?"

"One religion after another has accepted and perpetuated man's original mistake in making a private servant of the mother of the race."

"A normal feminine influence in recasting our religious assumptions will do more than any other one thing to improve the world."

"What would have been the effect upon religion if it had come to us through the minds of women?"

"We 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."

"The 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."

 
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