Among the many important and interesting personalities at the International Council of Women's London conference in 1899, one of the most important and most interesting was unequivocally Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Stetson) from New York, already well known as a brilliant writer and illustrious speaker in her home country and the rest of the English-speaking world. No sooner had her book, Women and Economics, appeared than it made a big splash; after that, her name was on every tongue. Through mutual English friends, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Stetson in person. When at my request she sketched out the key ideas and features of her book to me in her own lively, captivating, and vivacious manner, I immediately had the idea to make her work accessible through translation to a German audience, in particular the like-minded people working on different areas of the women's movement--a thought that then continued to take more solid form during the reading of this extraordinary book, which over and over again brought my attention to and expressed in great clarity feelings and sensations with unrelenting consistency. Its completion is due to the author's most friendly willingness to oblige and spirited consent. In agreement with her publisher, Mrs. Stetson transferred the German translation rights for Women and Economics to me while still in London. Unfortunately, my intention to complete the work in a few months could not be realized due to unforeseeable demands from other projects at that time and as a result, I am only just now--after a year and a half--in the position to make good on my promise to Mrs. Stetson. This, moreover, would have been barely possible without the friendly willingness of my dear friend and colleague Mrs. Alice Salomon (Berlin), who supported me in the translation of the second part. Here I declare my heartfelt thanks to her.
It was unavoidable that in the occasionally quite difficult translation, some of the original charm and lovable humor were lost at times--qualities, which along with the clarity of thought, precise observation, and sharp logic distinguish Women and Economics. Numerous repetitions and long-winded passages, which seem superfluous and disruptive to our German taste, were omitted. If now and then it might seem to the attentive reader as if additional edits would not have detracted from the impression of the entire work, it should be noted that the utmost caution appeared imperative out of respect for the careful work of the author and in the interest of generally easier comprehensibility.
Although somewhat delayed by the circumstances, the present book might, however, not only appear not too late, but in this respect at just the right moment for the German public. On the one hand, our understanding of the nature and importance of the women's movement has deepened only quite recently to the extent that would ensure a sympathetic reception and acclaim in progressive circles for the author's bold, though always infallibly certain and consistent conclusions. On the other hand, the book--in this respect unique in its way—gives answers to uncountable open questions (open also for those that have learned to think through the concepts of the women's movement).
This is not to say that these answers will immediately satisfy everyone or even all of the "new" men and women. In contrast, objection, or at least some critical headshaking can be expected despite the author's strongly factual explanations, which are always securely based in biological and historic development. As is generally known, habit is our wet nurse, and nowhere is our thinking and feeling so closely linked with it than in the area of relationships between the genders and the family. Although from beginning to end our book allows for the author's fundamental concept that "great social revolutions come slowly, in thousands of ripples like the rising tide," that they can never ever be "sudden jumps over gaping chasms," she nevertheless declares in each line that women's liberation and greater development must bring about a complete change in all of our former ways of living and looking at the world; at the same time, this liberation and greater development--in a natural interplay--will be determined by the economic and social changes already in effect. Recognizing or even just realizing this concept will be quite difficult for small--and large intellects. When even important national economists and politicians, who stay abreast of all other areas of fundamental reform in our economic and intellectual life and draw the inevitable consequences from them, are compelled to stop with regards to the position of woman and mother and out of inexplicable nearsightedness and blindness regard change as impossible--even though they, who in spite of some reform already in place want to base "the present and future of the family" on preconditions that are no longer valid and existential requirements of the past that are no longer relevant and seek to deceive themselves with empty phrases about the impossibility of this undertaking--then it cannot be expected from the unprogressives, who at best view the question of the women's movement as a temporary state of emergency belonging to the "daughters of the educated classes," or even from the unswaying opposition that they accept this book without further new and surprising theories presented in a logical train of thought. That would be presuming too much and asking for too much. For the present, just provoking them to think about these theories would satisfy both the author and the translator.
English and American critics called Women and Economics a standard work for the question of women's rights and placed it on the same level as John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women. Although I am filled with grateful reverence for the Bible of the women's movement, I do not dare to assert that this highest of praise is justified in every way. I would, however, like to highlight two virtues of the present book in particular: it is more objective and more thorough. Mrs. Stetson not only clearly demonstrates that everything had to happen as it happened, and that no one is to blame for the circumstances that resulted from necessary, legitimate development--she also shows that women have gone further and higher even on the basis of this same legitimate development and ultimately they will also reach the Promised Land, that only short-sighted foolishness can keep them and humanity from it.
Dresden, April 1901
Translated into English by Claire Whitner