I had the pleasure of asking Lorraine Krall McCrary about her new article “From Hull-House to Herland: Engaged and Extended Care in Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” (Politics & Gender, August 2018, 1-21). She examines the writings and activities of Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gliman and how the two activists’ opinions on the roles women have in politics, society, and family differed. Here’s what she had to say:
Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” among many other writings) were exact contemporaries; they were both born in 1860 and died in 1935. Both worked on issues related to women and social reform and their efforts overlapped. They were both involved with the beginning of the women’s peace movement, worked on the feminist magazine The Woman’s Journal, and were active in the American Sociological Society from its founding (Gilman 1997). Their work in sociology and on feminist projects brought them together—Gilman stayed at Hull-House for several months in 1895, and her visit to Hull-House influenced her fictional utopias.
While they shared common goals, they also had differences in their approach. For example, Gilman’s was on all of humanity, rather than only on those who were poor. Moreover, she struggled with some practical aspects of common life, such as with a roommate at Hull-House over how far to leave the windows open.
In “From Hull-House to Herland: Engaged and Extended Care in Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” I theorize beneficial and harmful forms of care based on the writings of Addams and Gilman and by probing the differences between them.
Addams’s writings, as well as her own practice of care at Hull-House, outline a care that is engaged—it is personal and relational, concerned with circumstances and people. Addams says these relationships of care should push us into society and politics. In the modern world, we are forced to work together to solve domestic problems. This is true even of the way that Addams writes—she weaves the stories of others into her writing, highlighting specific events and voices that might not otherwise be heard. I argue that this use of stories when used for political ends can take the particularity of care too far; stories used to make a point can imply that there is one appropriate solution to a political problem, and that to think otherwise would make you cruel and heartless.
Gilman, on the other hand, is more focused on a universal care. Equally distributed, for instance, in utopian form among the inhabitants of Herland, a country entirely comprised of women. Gilman’s use of stories is different, too. Rather than using the stories of others, as Addams does, Gilman uses her fictional utopias as experiments in lives lived otherwise; they are contributions to a philosophical conversation about the best life.
By putting Addams and Gilman into dialogue with one another, a conception of care and its limitations emerges. A beneficial form of care is engaged with people and circumstances first and is then connected to the world beyond these; engaged, particular care should be leveraged to promote political care, as Addams teaches. However, care ought not coerce its recipients, but rather, cultivate their agency. Moreover, political care needs to preserve space for rational decisions that are not solely guided by emotional stories, such as those we hear at the State of the Union, as Gilman reveals. Finally, politics has more concerns than only care—it ought to retain commitments to freedom and democracy, in addition to a degree of philosophical detachment.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. 1997. With her in ourland: Sequel to Herland, ed. Mary Jo Deegan and Michael R. Hill. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Lorraine Krall McCrary is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wabash College and a political theorist, writing on the intersection between ethics of care feminism and disability studies, in addition to the relationship between the family and politics. She often draws on literature in her research.