1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

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 Charlotte Perkins Gilman Letters

 Of Providence, R.I. and Pasadena, Cal. Lecturer and author.

 Letters, 1879-1890.

 Size: 0.25 lin. ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 437

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, August 1995

 USE MICROFILM    HQ 1181 .U6 G55

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Charlotte Anna Perkins was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1860, the daughter of Frederick Beecher Perkins (1828-1899) and Mary Anna Fitch Westcott (ca.1830-1892). She was a grand-niece of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her father left the family in 1867, and was later granted a divorce. Charlotte and her mother then spent an itinerant existence for several years before settling in Providence in 1873. They lived on Manning Street on the city's East Side. Charlotte began course work at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1878, and found employment as an art teacher. She also worked as an illustrator, creating images for the Kendall Manufacturing Company of Providence, RI to use on their advertising cards for the laundry soap called Soapine. She married Providence artist Charles W. Stetson in 1884; they had one daughter, Katherine (1885-1979), and then were separated in 1888. Charlotte removed to California, where she developed a national reputation as an author, speaker and champion of women's rights and other social causes. She received her divorce from Stetson in 1894, and married George Houghton Gilman in 1900. She died in California in 1935.

            Probably her closest friend in Providence was Martha Luther (1862-a.1938), only surviving child of banker John Luther (1826-1876) and Emily Shaw (1832-1918). She married Charles A. Lane (1851-1894) in 1882, and lived in Hingham, Massachusetts after that date. They had two children: Charles C. (b. 1883) and Margaret L. (b. 1886).



Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Edited with an introduction by Ann L. Lane. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Hill, Mary A. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, 1860-1890. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.

Langley, Juliet A. "Audacious Fancies: A Collection of Letters from Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Martha Luther," Trivia 6 (Winter 1985), 52-69

Luther, Leslie L. The Luther Family in America. Moravia, NY: 1976.

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Scope and content:

            This collection consists of 32 letters and two letter fragments addressed from Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Martha Luther Lane between 1879 and 1890.

            Twenty were written from Providence in the summer of 1881, while Martha Luther was vacationing in New Hampshire. These letters, reflecting an intense friendship, also show Charlotte's disdain for convention and provide more than a hint of the strong feminist stance that would later bring her fame.

            Nine of the letters were written from Pasadena, California in 1889 and 1890, after Charlotte had freed herself from a difficult marriage and begun her writing career in earnest. These letters discuss the great emotional turmoil of the past several years, including a difficult marriage, birth of a daughter, a nervous breakdown, and finally a new start in life.

            The collection also contains a promotional brochure for Gilman's lectures, dating from about 1906, with a couple lines of notes in her hand.

            Though diaries indicate that the correspondence of these two women continued until a few months before Charlotte's death in 1935, none of the letters beyond 1890 are known to have survived. Martha Lane's letters to Gilman are also apparently lost. However, this surviving portion of their correspondence has already proven to be of great interest to Gilman scholars, as she had foreseen: "Incidental thought, wouldn't these letters of mine be nuts for commentators! If & if of course, but how they would squabble over indistinct references and possible meanings!" (August 13, 1881).

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            The letters were a gift from Nino Scotti. The 32 full letters came in 1974, and the two fragments in 1975. The provenance of the 1906 flier is unknown; it appears to have been part of the library's printed collection for many years, before being removed to the manuscript collection circa 1980; it probably does not share a common provenance with the Lane letters.

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Processing note:

            The letters, some of which number up to seven leaves, apparently arrived in some disarray, and were pieced together by curator Nathaniel Shipton, who complied a calendar. Several letters were noted as "apparently incomplete (lacking signature)"; for most of these, the signature was later found on page 1, along with a few final lines.

            The 1881 letters were apparently numbered by Martha Luther and sewn into a bound volume, since disbound. Each of these letters is numbered sequentially; 4 through 23 are present here, with the number 14 repeated, and number 18 missing.

            Three letters were rearranged in 1995. The two leaves formerly considered a single 8/19/1879 fragment are now considered to be of two different dates. Also, the final leaves of the 8/15 and 8/16/1881 letters had been inadvertently switched early on; this has been rectified. The 6/17/1890 letter had previously been treated as two separate letters; it is one letter which quotes at length a letter written on 6/9/1890.

            The letters are individually filed in acid-free folders.

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1. Undated fragment. Pages 5 and 6. 1 leaf.

            Formerly considered part of 8/19/1879 letter.

Letters addressed from Providence:

2. 1879/8/19 (fragment). 1 leaf, 4 pp. Incomplete. Illustrated.

To "Gay Frisker", presumably Martha Luther.

3. 1881/7/17. "No. 4" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

4. 1881/7/18. "No. 5" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp. Illustrated.

5. 1881/7/22. "No. 6" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

6. 1881/7/24. "No. 7" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

7. 1881/7/27. "No. 8" in series. 2 leaves, 8 pp. Illustrated.

8. 1881/7/29. "No. 9" in series. 6 leaves, 24 pp. Misnumbered.

9. 1881/7/30-31. "No. 10" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

10. 1881/8/1. "No. 11" in series. 4 leaves, 16 pp.

11. 1881/8/3. "No. 12" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

12. 1881/8/6. "No. 13" in series. 5 leaves, 20 pp. Illustrated.

13. 1881/8/8. "No. 14" in series. 6 leaves, 24 pp.

14. 1881/8/13. Also "No. 14" in series. 6 leaves, 24 pp.

15. 1881/8/15. "No. 15" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

16. 1881/8/16. "No. 16" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp. Illustrated.

17. 1881/8/23. "No. 17" in series. 7 leaves, 28 pp. Illustrated.

18. 1881/8/28. "No. 19" in series. 2 leaves, 8 pp.

19. 1881/9/1. "No. 20" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp. Illustrated.

20. 1881/9/4. "No. 21" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp. Illustrated.

21. 1881/9/10. "No. 22" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

22. 1881/9/14. "No. 23" in series. 3 leaves, 12 pp.

Letter addressed from Camp Walker, Upper Wilson Pond, Maine:

23. 1883/9/6. 4 leaves, 13 pp. Illustrated.

Letters addressed from Pasadena, CA as Charlotte Perkins Stetson:

24. 1886/1/4. 1 leaf, 4 pp.

25. 1886/3/13. 1 leaf, 4 pp.

26. 1889/3/16. 1 leaf, 4 pp.

27. 1889/8/15. 3 leaves, 6 pp.

28. 1889/10/22. 2 leaves, 8 pp. Unsigned and possibly incomplete.

29. 1890/1/20. 5 leaves, 10 pp.

30. 1890/3/15. 2 leaves, 4 pp.

31. 1890/4/15. 4 leaves, 8 pp.

32. 1890/6/17. 2 leaves, 4 pp.

Includes a letter from W.D. Howells to Stetson, dated 6/7/1890, quoted in full.

33. 1890/7/27. 3 leaves, 5 pp.

34. 1890/9/7. 2 leaves, 4 pp.


35. Undated promotional flier for Gilman lectures, ca. 1906, with notes in Gilman's hand. Illustrated. 1 leaf, 4 pp.

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Divorce - Rhode Island - Providence

Howells, William D. (1837-1920)

Lane, Martha (Luther) (1862-a.1938)

Providence, R.I. - Social life and customs - 1881

Women's Rights

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