Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 - August 17, 1935) was not exactly a writer of hymns, but her life and work do intersect in a minor way with hymns and congregational singing of a sort.

In her autobiography, published in 1935, Gilman describes how, as an adult, she taught herself to read music.

I was not in the least musical, hardly able to distinguish 'Yankee Doodle' from 'Old Hundred,' or to sing either.  But I was fond of good hymn-tunes, such as I had been familiar with in church-going days in Providence.  Mrs. Campbell had a Unitarian Hymnbook, and there was the piano.  I did not know the notes, or the keys, and had no ear, but I had eyes, fingers, and brains.  Pointing to the opening note in some well-loved tune, I asked her to show me where it was on the keyboard. (...) In a few months I was not only able to sing some simple tunes correctly, with the piano, but even to carry some of them without it.  'Antioch' is my favorite.  When preaching, if allowed to select a hymn, I always ask for that one, it is so creditable to Christianity.

ANTIOCH is better known to most people as Joy to the world, which was not always confined to Christmastime as it is today.

In 1911, she published Suffrage Songs and Verses, a short collection of feminist poetry, the source of Gilman's previous text seen here (see link below), Day of hope and day of glory.  Some of the poetry has suggested tunes indicated, and it was probably her hope that they would be sung at women's suffrage meetings or other gatherings.  This particular one did not have a suggested tune, but it just happens to fit one of the tunes that Gilman claims she couldn't identify before her musical self-education.  So today's text (with her own distinctive capitalization retained) isn't really a hymn, but Charlotte Perkins Gilman (like Luther, Calvin, and hundreds of others before her) certainly knew the power of words and music sung together for influencing people's beliefs. 

With God Above–Beneath–Beside–
Without–Within–and Everywhere;
Rising with the resistless tide
Of life, and Sure of Getting There.

Patient with Nature's long delay,
Proud of our conscious upward swing;
Not sorry for a single day,
And Not Afraid of Anything! 

With Motherhood at last awake–
With Power to Do and Light to See–
Women may now begin to Make
The People we are Meant to Be!

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1911
 Louis Bourgeois, 1551 (attrib.)

 Five Years Ago: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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