Note from Martha Peterson to Catharine Stimpson, 1971

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Miss [Stimpson] - 
 
 This is the [history cntr] the Modern Branch wants re-named or dismantled. I can't support it
 
 MP
 
 
 To the Friends of the Schlesinger Library:
 
 The last week of November with its traditional pause for thanksgiving
 seems an especially appropriate time this year for the Schlesinger Library to com-
 municate with its Friends. We write in gratitude, eager to convey to you a little of
 our own excitement about what the Friends have made possible for the Library.
 
 For any of our readers whose memory reaches back to the first decades of
 this century the name of Charlotte Perkins Gilman will be familiar. Then a widely
 read author and lecturer, she is being hailed today, after forty years of relative
 neglect, as one of the two boldest and most original thinkers in the long history of
 the woman’s movement in the United States, sharing this honor with the redoubt-
 able Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
 
 Since the time of Mrs. Gilman’s death in 1935 her papers in their entirety
 had remained in the hands of her daughter, Mrs. Katharine Stetson Chamberlin
 of Pasadena, California. With the revived appreciation in the late 1960’s of
 Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work, many scholars longed to be able to examine
 these papers which were known to be extensive.
 
 Aware that this was the case and encouraged by a cordial note from Mrs.
 Chamberlin, the Director of the Schlesinger Library stopped in Pasadena to call
 on her just a year ago at this time during a West Coast trip and was able to convey
 to her the Library’s interest in the manuscripts. Some months of correspondence
 followed in which Mrs. Chamberlin sought the answer to her own earnest ques-
 tion as to the proper repository for her mother's papers.
 
 Meanwhile more than one of the great historical libraries of the country
 were pressing to obtain the papers. At the crucial moment in the decision, funds
 derived from the Friends’ memberships became the determining factor. The result
 has been that the Schlesinger Library is now the recipient of an astonishingly rich
 and varied Charlotte Perkins Gilman collection.
 
 Over a thousand of her own letters, two unpublished book-length manu-
 scripts, original hand-written drafts of poems, complete texts of many of her best
 known lectures and that famous short story, “The Yellow Wall Paper,” all in her
 own hand, constitute an important part of the whole. In addition there are her
 journals, and letters from leading intellectual figures of the day: Edward Bellamy,
 Lester Ward, E.A. Ross, H.G. Wells, many of the English Fabians, Jane Addams,
 Susan B. Anthony, William Dean Howells, and a host of others.
 
 Howells wrote to her in 1919, “I hope you will like to let me use your terrible
 story of ‘The Yellow Wall Paper’ in a book which I am making . . . and thinking of
 calling ‘Little Masterpieces of American Fiction’. You will be in the best company I
 know, and I hope you will not curdle their blood past liquefying . . . . ”
 
 
The only known existing set of the short-lived Impress, edited and largely
 written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (then Stetson) in San Francisco in the 1890’s
 is in the collection, as is a set also of the better known Forerunner (1909-1915). Of
 the latter, writes E.A. Ross, the pioneer sociologist, in a letter to her in 1915, “Just
 a line to express appreciation of the October Forerunner. What impresses me is the
 freshness of it all, - as if Eve could have visited our time, sized it all up and com-
 mented upon it.”
 
 Mrs. Gilman’s major work, Women and Economics, came out in 1898 and
 developed the thesis on which all her later books rested, namely that woman’s
 economic dependence on man was the true source of her bondage. It was the forth-
 right and logical analysis of this dilemma that brought the author world fame and
 led to the book’s being translated into seven different languages. Some called it the
 most significant piece of work on women since John Stuart Mill’s Subjection of
 Women.
 
 Given the central importance of this book, it is fascinating to read her own
 long letter to George Houghton Gilman, whom she was soon to marry, describing
 the genesis of the idea for Women and Economics in July 1897, “and what makes me
 more than happy, I have in that ranch week (in Kansas) made an enormous new
 step in my sociological theories. So large and valuable a one that I am now
 quite clear and determined about the rest of the summer’s work and mean to
 have a book ready to read to you when I get back!” In the next twenty pages of her
 letter she goes on to develop step by step the main thesis of Women and Economics
 which she was subsequently to write at white heat, completing the first draft in
 seventeen days while staying at five different houses.
 
 Equally interesting are letters of reaction to the book from distinguished
 peers in the world at large. A letter in Jane Addams’ own hand reads in part,
 “Mrs. Kelley (Florence Kelley of Consumers League fame) and I have just re—
 turned from Washington and on the way thither and back we read your book with
 the greatest admiration and profit. Mrs. Kelley says that it is the only real contribu-
 tion to economics ever made by a woman and she steadily read it through twice.
 It puts so perfectly clearly many things which I have been fumbling after that I feel
 much indebted to you for getting them out.”
 
 What this collection can mean to the history of feminist thought becomes
 increasingly apparent as we work on the cataloguing of the Gilman papers. It is to
 the Friends of the Schlesinger Library that we owe a debt of gratitude for their
 presence here.
 
 The purpose of this letter was to say thank you. For those of you whose
 habit of year—end giving in the past has included the Schlesinger Library we are
 enclosing a return envelope. To all of you we do say thank you and send our warm
 and seasonal greetings.
 
 Sincerely,
 
 Mrs. M. Adolphus Cheek, Jr.
 Director
 
 November 30, 1971