“The Literature of Prescription: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wall-Paper”” , a National Library of Medicine Traveling Exhibition, examines the role of gender in the perception and medical treatment of mental illness using Gilman’s work and other materials.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), was an American writer, artist, lecturer and advocate for women’s rights who lived at a time when the medical profession’s ideas about female weakness and social conventions restricted women’s professional, creative and intellectual pursuits.
To preserve her health, Gilman was advised by a physician to “live as domestic a life as far as possible… And never touch pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as she lived. After three months following those instructions, she returned to writing and in two days penned “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” a story about a young woman driven mad by the “rest cure” advocated by the medical profession. First published in 1892, readers found the story to be intriguing and disturbing; today, it is considered a classic of feminist literature. Gilman became an influential writer and speaker about women’s rights and economic independence.
A digital version of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” The New England Magazine, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, January 1892 is available, courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.
The exhibition was developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. More information, including educational resources, is available at the website, www.nlm.nih.gov/theliteratureofprescription.
Photo: Charlotte Perkins Gilman writing at her desk, ca. 1916-1922. (Courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.)