‘When I was a Witch’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A woman in New York finds herself wielding unexpected powers including the power to compel newspapers to print only the factual truth. She discovers of course that her real influence has its limits – because she is a woman. It’s remarkable how the ways in which this story skewers and confronts the problems of print journalism have not dated, much. The protagonist’s wish initially results in “a crazy quilt of a paper”, with “All intentional lies” printed in scarlet, “All malicious matter” in crimson, “All mere bait – to sell the paper” in bright green, “All hired hypocrisy” in purple. But soon everything turns to blue and black: “Good fun, instruction and entertainment” and “True and necessary news and honest editorials” only. This story first appeared in print 114 years ago in The Forerunner, a monthly magazine the author wrote and published herself for seven years. 21st century readings of her work necessarily consider her feminism within the co-existing context of her racism, but this remains a fascinating example of early 1900s feminist fantasy fiction.

First published in The Forerunner in 1909. Collected in The Yellow Wallpaper, Penguin 60s Classics, 1995, and available to read online here

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