Gilman, Caroline Howard

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GILMAN, Caroline Howard

Born 8 October 1794, Boston, Massachusetts; died 15 September 1888, Washington, D.C.

Wrote under: Caroline Gilman, Caroline Howard, Clarissa Packard

Daughter of Samuel and Anna Howard; married Samuel Gilman,1819; children: seven, three died in infancy

Caroline Howard Gilman's father died when she was two, her mother when she was ten. She had an irregular education, as the family moved from one Boston suburb to another. After her marriage to a Unitarian minister she moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Three of her seven children died in infancy.

In 1832, Gilman began publication of the Rose-Bud; or, Youth's Gazette, one of the earliest American magazines for children. Renamed the Southern Rose-Bud in 1833 and the Southern Rose in 1835, it gradually became a general family magazine before ceasing publication in 1839. Many of Gilman's writings appeared first in its pages.

In Recollections of a Housekeeper (1834), "Clarissa Packard" gives a brief account of her education and then describes her first years of marriage. Because its first person narrator is solidly middle class (Mr. Packard is an attorney), Clarissa Packard's chronicle presents a "case history" of the "disestablishment" of the American woman as described by Ann Douglas in The Feminization of American Culture. Her duties as a housekeeper seem to consist largely of training cooks, hired girls, or nurse-maids; and the domestic crises of her early marriage usually involve the unexpected departure of one or more of these servants. She emphasizes throughout that she can roast and boil, make puddings and pies, sweep and dust, and she is pleased her mother has educated her for usefulness: "My mother was proud to say that I could manufacture a frilled shirt in two days, with stitches that required a microscope to detect them." She is busy, however, teaching others to do her cooking, sweeping, and washing. No sooner does she train women than they tire of devoting themselves to her and her family and want to get married and have lives of their own.

Much of the humor in the Recollections of a Housekeeper is afforded by the vocabulary and accents of the rustic New Englanders who come to serve and by their inability to grasp the forms (and perhaps the spirit) of such service. When Gilman wrote her chronicle of a New England housekeeper, she had already been living in Charleston for many years. The disestablishment of the middle-class housewife and the attitudes towards servants revealed in the first book reach a logical culmination in its companion piece, Recollections of a Southern Matron (1838), which depicts all for the best in that best of all possible worlds, the Southern plantation. The first person narrator of this second book supplies more information on her background and early life, and a romantic plot with a subplot involving a secondary heroine, but the focus is again on scenes of domestic life. Gilman places great emphasis on the contentment of the slaves (they are always called "servants," but they stay around once they are trained), and she claims their lot is better than that of Northern servants and millhands. Gilman's letters to her children after the Civil War show her still unchanged in the opinion that slavery had benefitted the slaves.

In The Poetry of Travelling in the United States (1838), Gilman sets out to "present something in the same volume which might prove attractive to both the Northern and Southern reader" and "to increase a good sympathy between different portions of the country." The details of the 19th-century means of travel are often absorbing. Gilman admits that listening to members of Congress in Washington excites her "state feelings" and that "a word against Carolina is a personal offence to me," but it is still 20 years before Brooks's attack on Sumner: "Amid the clanship, however, there is a general and beautiful courtesy, which in private leads to the happiest results; a pleasant jest is the very hardest weapon used, and that sparingly. The extreme Northern and Southern members are on terms of the most agreeable intercourse."

Gilman also published collections of short stories, poetry (some with her daughter Caroline Howard Jervey), and novels. She prided herself most on her writings for children and young people, but these are now of interest mostly as indications of what Americans of the 1830s thought suitable reading for their children. Her position as a humorous chronicler of middle-class domesticity, North and South—a sort of early Erma Bombeck—became more and more difficult to sustain, as this New England-born Unitarian gave her sympathies to her adopted South.

Other Works:

The Lady's Annual Register and Housewife's Memorandum Book (1838). Letters of Eliza Wilkinson (edited by Gilman, 1839). Tales and Ballads (1839). Love's Progress (1840). The Rose-Bud Wreath (1841). Oracles from the Poets (1844). Stories and Poems for Children (1844). The Sibyl; or, New Oracles from the Poets (1849). Verses of a Life Time (1849). A Gift Book of Stories and Poems for Children (1850). Oracles for Youth (1852). Recollections of a New England Bride and a Southern Matron (1852). Record of Inscriptions in the Cemetery and Building of the Unitarian…Church…Charleston, S.C. (1860). Stories and Poems by Mother and Daughter (with C. H. Jervey, 1872). The Poetic Fate Book (1874). Recollections of the Private Centennial Celebration of the Overthrow of the Tea (1874). The Young Fortune Teller (with C. H. Jervey, 1874).


Saint-Amand, M. S., A Balcony in Charleston (1941).

Reference works:

DAB. The Living Writers of the South (1869). NAW (1971). NCAB, 13. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Women of the South Distinguished in Literature (1861).

Other references:

NCHR (April 1934). SAQ (Jan. 1924).


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Gilman, Caroline Howard

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