Catharine Beecher and Charlotte Perkins Essay
Catharine Beecher and Charlotte Perkins
In the article “Catharine Beecher and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Architects of Female Power” by author Valerie Gill, Ms. Gill attempts to bridge the gap between what appears to be two powerful women of their time with two totally different opinions of the American woman and the type of life they should lead. The author points out the obvious differences of opinions in the writings of the two women, who are related by the way, and the different era in which they write. Catharine Beecher was the great aunt of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and lived and wrote during a time when a woman working in any other place besides the home was not something that happened often. A woman’s job during this time was to raise children and make the home a warm, inviting space that had functionality that would allow for “separate spheres” for the men and women, allowing the men to have a place to discuss outside ventures and women to have a place to deal with domestic matters.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman on the other hand, lived during a period where productivity was happening in factories all over the country. Her feminist attempt to undo her great aunt’s idea that women should be assigned to only the home made it appear that the two women had absolutely nothing in common when it came to the ideas on how women should be viewed socially. Gill points out how the two very different opinions actually have many things in common. Both women agree that the role of women is very important to the health of society, even though they disagree on what their roles should be. By suggesting that each writer knows what is the best arrangement for women to experience shows another similarity between the two writers.
As pointed out by Gill, “Both writers conceptualize the identity of women in spatial as well as socioeconomic terms, assuming that the fulfillment of their own sex can be quite literally mapped out”. The author makes a point that even though their opinions of what is ideal are very different, the idea that there is one way to make women live a full life is exactly the same. Both women also had the common conclusion that the woman’s place, whether it is in the home working or in the factory working, would make a great impact on the society. Architectural ideas as to better society are another thing these two authors had in common, as pointed out by Gill in the article. The elder author Beecher would make drawings in her articles about staging the home and using dividers as a way to make more areas in the home, and Gilman, being concerned about the lives led by farmer’s wives, included drawings of a farming community shaped like a pie that had common areas to share, as to make life easier for them.
Interesting enough, Gill included in her article a picture of a drawing done by Beecher, along with her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, later in life of a block of houses with common areas used to house the “homeless, helpless, and vicious” which very much resembled Gilman’s block community idea where people shared common spaces and so that some women could take care of the children and household duties while others went out in the community to work. This is an excellent example of Beecher thinking like Gilman in the mixing of public and private space. It is my opinion that the aging Beecher was beginning to think out of the box.
This article was insightful and gave a great example of how people with a difference of opinion can actually be thinking the same. If one just read the two women’s writings without an open mind, one would think they were completely different and had totally different ideas. Valerie Gill allowed the reader of the article to view a situation such as this one in a different way and to keep an open mind and read between the lines of any writings. I would have liked to have seen her go on and discuss the idea that some women may belong at home and some may belong in the workforce. I believe that every woman has a different situation to consider and what is important to one woman may not be important to another.