Date of this Version
Hill, Michael R. 2010. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Entrepreneurial Turn: A Working Introduction.” Paper presented to The Jane Addams Conference on Social Entrepreneurship. (A conference arranged by the Department of Sociology at Uppsala University in cooperation with The Nobel Museum in Stockholm). Uppsala, Sweden, November 19.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, lived from 1860 to 1935 — the same years as did Jane Addams. Gilman was an American, a pioneering sociologist, an influential feminist pragmatist, a peripatetic lecturer, a prolific author, and a friend of Addams. Although Gilman died in 1935, she remains today a provocative sociological presence whose writings continue to make us think, argue, and question our preconceptions. This paper explores the entrepreneurial basis of Gilman’s life as a professional sociologist, including her work as an artist, public speaker, and writer. Gilman promoted the core ideas that (1) humanness trumps sexual difference, (2) social logic is superior to individualist logic, (3) social evolution requires thoughtful planning, (4) social equity and fair play must hold in all things, (5) the past must not blindly restrict the future, (6) children must be well cared for, (7) beauty is not a luxury, and (8) greed, war, and waste are anti-social. Writing in the American Journal of Sociology and The Forerunner (the latter was a sociological journal that Gilman wrote and published from 1909 to 1916), Gilman espoused her mature sociological analyses of (1) the systemic relationships between family, home and society, (2) men and marriage, (3) motherhood, and (4) the relationships between children and parents. These analyses arose in the context of Gilman’s vocational self-definition and entrepreneurial self-promotion as a female sociologist working outside the formal academy. Although vulnerable to misinterpretation and intellectual hijacking, Gilman provides an exciting and inherently entrepreneurial model that deserves recognition and further exploration.