One Girl of Many

By Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman 1860–1935 Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman
One girl of many. Hungry from her birth
Half-fed. Half-clothed. Untaught of woman’s worth.
In joyless girlhood working for her bread.
At each small sorrow wishing she were dead,
Yet gay at little pleasures. Sunlight seems
Most bright & warm where it most seldom gleams.

One girl of many. Tawdry dress and old;
And not enough beneath to bar the cold.
The little that she had misspent because
She had no knowledge of our nature’s laws.
Thinking in ignorance that it was best
To wear a stylish look, and -- bear the rest.

One girl of many. With a human heart.
A woman’s too; with nerves that feel the smart
Of each new pain as keenly as your own.
The old ones, through long use, have softer grown.
And yet in spite of use she holds the thought
Of might-be joys more than, perhaps, she ought.

One girl of many. But the fault is here;
Though she to all the others was so near;
One difference there was, which made a change.
No wrong thing, surely. Consequence most strange!
Alike in birth. Alike in life’s rough way.
She, through no evil, was more fair than they.

So came the offer, “Leave this story cold
Where you may drudge and starve till you are old.
Come! I will give you rest. And food. And fire.
And fair apparel to your heart’s desire;
Shelter. Protection. Kindness. Peace & Love.
Has your life anything you hold above?”

And she had not. In all her daily sight
There shone no vestige of the color White.
She had seen nothing in her narrow life
To make her venerate the title “Wife.”
She knew no reason why the thing was wrong;
And instinct grows debased in ages long.

All things that she had ever yet desired
All dreams that her starved girlhood’s heart had fired
All that life held of yet unknown delight
Shone, to her ignorance, in colors bright.
Shone near at hand and sure. If she had known!
But she was ignorant. She was alone.

And so she - sinned. I think we call it sin.
And found that every step she took therein
Made sinning easier and conscience weak.
And there was never one who cared to speak
A word to guide and warn her. If there were
I fear such help were thrown away on her.

Only one girl of many. Of the street.
In lowest depths. The story grows unmeet
For wellbred ears. Sorrow and sin and shame
Over and over till the blackened name
Sank out of sight without a hand to save.
Sin, shame, and sorrow. Sickness, & the grave.

Only one girl of many. Tis a need
Of man’s existence to repeat the deed.
Social necessity. Men cannot live
Without what these disgraceful creatures give.
Black shame. Dishonor. Misery & Sin.
And men find needed health & life therein.

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman 1860–1935

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Gender & Sexuality, Class, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Couplet

 Charlotte Anna  Perkins Gilman


One of America’s first feminists, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote fiction and nonfiction works promoting the cause of women’s rights. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut; her father left the family when she was young, and her mother and the children often lived with relatives. Gilman attended the Rhode Island School of Design and worked briefly as a commercial artist. After the birth of her first child, Gilman suffered from . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Gender & Sexuality, Class, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Couplet

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.