Harriet Martineau




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This information in this section is from Linda M. Woolf, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Webster University. Retrieved on August 11, 2002, from http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/martineau.html

Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society: Harriet Martineau

"Harriet Martineau authored the first systematic methodological treatise in sociology, conducted extended international comparative studies of social institutions, and translated August Comte's Cours de philosophi positive into English, thus structurally facilitating the introductin of sociology and positivism into the United States. In her youth she was a professional writer who captured the popular English mind by wrapping social scientific instruction in a series of widely read novels. In her maturity she was an astute sociological theorist, methodologist, and analyst of the first order. To the extent that any complex institutional phenomenon such as sociology can have identifiable founders, Alice Rossi (1973, 118-124) justly celebrates Harriet Martineau as 'the first woman sociologist.'" (Hill, 290)


Harriet Martineau was born in 1802, the sixth of eight children in an upper middle class English family. Her parents were Thomas and Elizabeth (Rankin) Martineau. Thomas was a manufacturer of textiles and an importer of wine in the old cathedral city of Norwich. Norwich was once a distinguished cultural and manufacturing center, but became a casualty of the industrial revolution later in Harriet's life. Thomas's family was considered one of the first families of Norwich, he belonged to an elite literary circle that included Mrs. Barbauld and Amelia Opie. Thomas was a devout Unitarian, a trait that he passed onto his daughter Harriet.

Harriet's mother, Elizabeth was a literate and intelligent woman but had little formal education, making her feel out of place among the cultural elite of Norwich. She had always wanted to go through CNA training but didn't have the chance. Harriet described her mother as a domestic tyrant and believed that her tyrranies stemmed from her perceived social inadquacies. But at the same time, it is true that the frugal efficiency and impersonal nature with which she ran her house was characteristic of the 19th century matriarch. Elizabeth enforced in Harriet a fearfulness and felings of self doubt that would take her years to work out. Hariet described childhood overall as a "burdensome experience" writin in Household Education (1849)

No creature is so intensely reserved as a proud and timid child: and the cases are few in which the parents know anything of the agonies of its little heart...It hides its miseries under an appearance of indifference or obstinancy, till its habitual terror impairs its health, or drives it into a temper of defiance or recklessness. I can speak with some certainty of this, from my own experience. I was as timid a child as ever was born.

And though Harriet became deaf later in her life she claimed she had no sense of smell or taste, which some have linked to a traumatic event that blocked it out psychologically. Harriet's mother had turned her over to a wet nurse soon after she was born, which was custom at the time. "The wet nurse hired to suckle the child had concealed from Mrs. Martineau that she had all but ceased lactation" (Pichanick, 6). To make up for this neglect, Elizabeth made milk the staple of Harriet's diet, and though she hated it, could not bring herself to complain,


....and so went for years having the feeling of a heavy lump in her throat for the whole of every morning - sometimes choking with it, and sometimes stealing out into the yard to vomit; and worse than the lump in her throat she had depression of the spirits for the first half of every day, which much injured the action of her mind at lessons and was too much for her temper (Martineau in Household Education p.185)

Though most of her childhood was miserable, Harriet's two sources of joy came from her maternal instinct for her younger brother James and her youngest sister, Ellen. When Ellen was born, Harriet said she would " like to observe the growth of a human mind from the very beginning" ( Pichanick, 5).

Harriet's education was largely at home through self study. She had early exposure to subjects routinely taught only to males. University study was barred to women at the time, but Harriet maintained a regime of intense, self directed investigation throughout her life. When Harriet was about 15 years of age, and her deafness worsening, she was sent by her parents to stay with her aunt and uncle. It was through her uncle that she was introduced to the writings of Locke, Hartley and thr principle of sensation. Her uncle was also a minister and reinforced her religious views as a devout Unitarian.


During the 1820's, the Martineau family went into economic decline when Thomas died. Despite the imposing threat of poverty, Harriet felt a sense of freedom in facing the reality of earning her own living. She was able to escape the confines of a middle class Victorian marriage when her fiance, John Hugh Worthington, had a mental and physical collapse. She had no relationship after this - stating later that "there is a power of attachment in me that has never been touched." She remained single and independent the rest of her life.

Harriet "sucessfully supported herself as an author in various forms, including essays, tracts, reviews, novels, journal articles, travelogues, biograpies, how-to manuals, newspaper columns, histories, children's stories and sociologically informed non-fiction" (Hill, 290).

By 1829 she had decided that decided to commit herself to the profession, writing:


I have determined that my chief subordinate object in life shall henceforth be the cultivation of my intellectual powers, with a view to the instruction of others by my writings. On this determination I pray for the blessing of God...I believe myself possessed of no uncommon talents, and of not an atom of genius; but as various circumstances have allowed me to think more accurately than some women, I believe that I may so write on subjects of universal concern as to inform some minds and stir up others...of posthumous fame I have not the slightest expectation or desire. To be useful in my day and generation is enough for me. (Pichanick, 31)

Harriet's first literary efforts were reverently religious due to her devout Unitarianism. The adoption of Necessarianism by Harriet, however, provided her with the intellectual bridge to a social scientific perspective. In Illustrations of Political Economy (1832-1834) she abandoned her ecclesiastical dogma and began a relationship with social theory. In this book she used fiction to explicate the principles of the new science of political economy. She lived in London during these years and became part of a very influential and advanced literary circle. The circle included: Charles Babbage, Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, Florence Nightingale, Charles Dickens, Thomas Malthaus, William Wodsworth, Charlotte Bronte, and Charles Darwin.

Her Writings

In 1834 Harriet began a two year study and visit of the United States. She reported her findings in Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of Western Travel (1838). These empirical studies emerged at the same time as her foundational treatise on sociological data collection, How to Observe Morals and Manners (1838). This book articulated the principles and methods of empirical social research.

Society in America is her most widely known work to sociologists in the U.S., addressing the issues of methodological strategy confronted with ethnocentrism. In this work she compared valued moral principles and observable social patterns, illustrating insightfully the distinctions between rhetoric and reality.

Her writings in How to Observe Morals and Manners offered a positivist solution to the correspondence problem between intersubjectivity, verifiable observables, and unobservable theoretical issues (Hill, 292).

Before Marx, Engels or Weber, Martineau examined social class, religion, suicide, national character, domestic relations, women's status, criminology, and interrelations between institutions and individuals.

In 1848, after her trip to the Mid-East and the publication of her work: Eastern Life Past ans Present, Harriet openly embraced atheism. She lost much of the support in her family, especially her younger brother James, a known cleric at the time. She also received a cold reception in the populous but was supported by her circle of literary friends. William Lloyd Garrison wrote in her support:


I know what you have dared to be brave, what you have suffered, by the frank avowal of what a hireling priesthood and a corrupt church have branded atheistical sentiments. Though my belief in immortality is without peradventure, I desire to tell you that you skepticism, in lack of evidence, on that point, has never altered my confidence in the goodness of your heart and the nobleness of your character...I respect and admire conscientious dissent and doubt...Heresy is the only thing that will redeem mankind. (Pichanick,191)

In 1851 Harriet translated Comte's Cours de philosophie positive into English, facilitating the introduction of positivism into American thought.

Later Life

Harriet Martineau spent her later years away from the bustling streets of London, moving to the serene Lake District. This was a welcome contrast to the years of constant trial and controversy that was characteristic of most of her life.

There is no thorough bibliography of Martineau's reviews and journal articles. During her life, she wrote over 1500 columns, undertook pioneering methodological studies in what is now called sociology. She was forgotten, in sociology, literature, history, and journalism due to the male academic system (Hill 294-295).

She died after years of illness in1876, but, in her usual fashion, had already written her obituary, nearly twenty years before:


Her original power was nothing more than was due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a certain range. With small imaginative and suggestive powers, and therefore nothing approaching genius, she could see clearly what she did see, and give a clear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularise, while she could neither discover nor invent. She could sympathise in other people's views and was too facile in doing so; and she could obtain and keep a firm grasp of her own, and, moreover, she could make them understood. The function of her life was to do this, and, inasfar as it was done diligently and honestly, her life was of use, however far its achievments may have fallen short of expectations less moderate than her own. Her duties and her business were sufficient for the peace and the desires of her mind. She saw the human race, as she believed, advancing under the law of progress; she enjoyed her share of the experience, and had no ambition for a larger endowment, or reluctance or anxiety about leaving the enjoyment of such as she had. (Pichanick, 239).

Works Consulted

This information in this section is from Dead Sociologists' Society created by Larry R. Ridener, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Radford University. Retrieved on August 11, 2002, from http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/INDEX.HTML#martineau

Harriet Martineau

The Person




Harriet Martineau was the most astute female politician in England through almost four decades of the mid-nineteenth century. She did her work as a writer, an investigative traveler, a correspondent, and an interpreter of a multitude of intellectual trends. In all the vast number of her works and interests she was ever conscious of being female. She knew that being a woman meant that she had to do whatever she did differently from a man. Early in 1832 she wrote in a letter to Francis Place from her native Norwich, "I wish I were in London, . . . I want to be doing something with the pen, since no other means of action in politics are in a woman's power." [1]

She was able to move to London within the year, for her monthly series of didactic fictional accounts of the ideas of the new economics, Illustrations of Political Economy, had made her instantly famous, and the income from the series made her self-supporting. She was to earn her living as a writer, her reputation as a radical economic, political, and social commentator, and her historical mark as a social scientist, current historian, and feminist. She is known today by scholars of American society through her keenly analytic work, Society in America, published in 1837 after a two-year journey in Jacksonian America. She is known by English people as the renowned progressive journalist and leader writer (editorialist) for the London Daily News, author of a history of a period through which she lived, The History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace, 1816-1846, translator into English of Auguste Comte's Positive Philosophy, and proponent of positivism and the social scientific method. In England she is even remembered locally as an amiable resident-householder of Ambleside in the Lake District, the informal educator of local workers through her winter series of instructive evening lectures and her personal lending library. In this, as in all her work, she was the progressive, enlightening reformer, perpetually confident in the rightness of her truth. Her feminism, perhaps because it was part and parcel of the whole of her political philosophy, is not as well known as her other ideas. Yet she took a stand and commented on virtually every campaign regarding women in England and America of her day and addressed some women's issues that were not identified so clearly as such until the women's movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Martineau's politics included a thoroughgoing attention to women. It was an essential part of her blend of radicalism, and it had emerged well before her declaration to Place a month before her thirtieth birthday in 1832 that she must act with her pen, as that was the only access to politics a woman had. Her feminist politics was to continue strong throughout her life. Sensitive to her own womanhood and the limitations it imposed on her, the entry to feminism for many a woman through several feminist generations, Martineau gradually turned this personal sensitivity to social ends until the rights of women and advocacy of women's causes became one of her lifelong major efforts. The first piece she ever published--at age nineteen--was on women: "Female Writers of Practical Divinity." In 1869, while an invalid confined to her home The Knoll at Ambleside, as her last public work she applied her mighty pen in support of the campaign by the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. This campaign was an organized effort by women to get Parliament to repeal a group of laws that they believed incriminated women indiscriminately. Euphemistically named, the laws purported to control syphilis and gonorrhea through controlling prostitution, while giving sweeping authority to police in garrison towns to detain and examine women on mere suspicion of prostitution. Englishwomen made the repeal of these laws a rallying focus for their first fully organized feminist operation. In her sixties Harriet Martineau wrote the drafts for their petitions, wrote speeches for the campaign leader, Josephine Butler, wrote the newspaper letters that launched the effort.

A London female journalist, Sarah Curtis, standing for Parliament in 1974 at the peak of the contemporary women's movement in Great Britain, called Harriet Martineau "the woman journalist of our time, then." [2] Curtis encapsulated in that statement the reason we need a fresh look at Martineau's feminism. I think this can best be accomplished through reading her own words on the subject, and to that end I present these selections of her works on women.

Harriet Martineau was a complicated female intellectual at a time when often the most a bookish middle-class woman in need of employment could aspire to was a position as a governess. She was full of contradictions, at times the advance messenger of a new movement, at times a reflector of Victorian eccentric views and narrow morality, sometimes farsighted, other times petty, sometimes mean, other times generous and wise, occasionally brilliant, but often verbose, repetitious, and tedious. Yet she was surely what we called in the early days of the recent women's movement "a role model from history," a woman of achievement, independence, and autonomy, whose hard-won gains resulted from her own effort. For Victorian England the magnitude of her accomplishment is astounding. She wrote without a significant break from early adulthood into her late sixties, despite health obstacles, supporting herself all her life by writing, and publishing well over 100 separately printed titles, scores of periodical articles, and some 1,642 newspaper editorials. The content of all that she wrote was wide-ranging, substantial, and serious.

As we reconsider her influence, we realize that we are not recovering a "lost woman writer" whose few small gems have been lost to the public for many years. Rather, hers is an enormous output. She never revised, and although some of her writing is lively and brilliant, some of it is very dull. She can be credited with neither painstaking attention to craft nor stylistic grace. Some of her vast outpouring has remained in print, and she has continued to hold a small place of historical recognition. Thus, it is neither because of neglect nor because of her virtuosity as a writer that we should again turn our attention to her.

As she was not entirely lost to history, so she was not a typical woman of her time, either. Harriet Martineau cannot be used as a case study of a nineteenth-century woman. She was not inarticulate or limited in public expression as most women were. She was not even a typical woman writer, for there were few women journalists, women writers tending to concentrate more on fiction and poetry. As a single woman, she was not dependent on an individual man for her economic or emotional well-being as the vast majority of women were. [3] No one thing that she did, no one aspect of her life makes her in any way a representative nineteenth-century woman.

On the other hand, even though she more often expressed new trends than typified currents, she was not an original thinker. Her genius lay in her ability to discern new ideas with quick intelligence, to communicate them clearly to the popular mind, and thus to rally, time and again, supporters and advocates of the new viewpoints and causes. Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, James Mill, Joseph Priestley, Jeremy Bentham thought up the doctrines of political economy, necessarian philosophy, and utilitarianism that she taught in the early years of her adulthood. Mrs. Jane Marcet in Conversations on Political Economy even invented the format she first used, the simplified lesson in print aimed at educating common people. Martineau took the ideas and perfected the form--the primer textbook in a sophisticated field, the how-to manual--at a time when the desire for general education was highly developed, but the instructional materials for it were not. Similarly, her account of her travels in the United States helped change the shape of the travel book. Although it was in vogue for Europeans to travel in the new republic and write about it, Martineau did more than simply describe her journey. She formulated a comparative method for studying societies and analyzed the new American culture by measuring it against carefully stated principles. Quite possibly, she wrote the first "methodological essay" ever published, How to Observe Morals and Manners.. Her greatest originality was in her method. Significantly, she translated and abbreviated Comte's Positive Philosophy, the wellspring of social scientific thought, so effectively that it spread the Comtean word far and wide and gave Martineau herself a new systematic framework in positivism. Comte himself believed it was so good that he had it retranslated into French for his French disciples, and her translation and abridgment are still the standard edition of Comte's work used in English sociology textbooks today.

It was the same with political issues. She did not begin a single campaign, but whether it was British reform politics, American abolitionism, nursing in the Crimean War, or feminism, she was in the forefront, interpreting and fighting for the cause. John Stuart Mill took the first petition for woman's suffrage to Parliament in 1866, but Harriet Martineau signed it and had long worked for it. American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was her hero, and no other English writer wrote so much in the cause of American abolition of slavery as she. Florence Nightingale was on the battlefield, organizing and professionalizing nursing in the Crimea, and then back home organizing nursing education and the War Office in England, but Martineau was her champion in the press. It is the cumulative effect of Martineau's numerous contributions that forms a part of her lasting contribution.

Although in some ways Martineau was very much a woman of her time and a Victorian intellectual, she was also, along with a group of her contemporaries, a true progenitor of the intellectual mode that reigns in Anglo-American liberalism today and provides the dominant informing paradigm of mainstream Western feminism. It is this intellectual influence that constitutes her greatest contribution. Her radicalism was the consistent strand in all her far-flung efforts. Its tenets were rationalism, progressivism, organizational order, voice for the inarticulate, respect for the individual, and faith in science, all of which determined right thinking. Hers was a singularly principled posture. She held the position that human free will is limited. What free will there is rests on the ability of the human to uncover the immutable laws of nature, physical, economic, and social. This radicalism of the Victorian era became the twentieth century's liberalism, and liberalism became the idea that did more than any other conceptual nucleus to make room for twentieth-century feminism clear into the 1980s. Harriet Martineau, I think, spelled out a feminist overview in the nineteenth century in terms that were radical then, and did it better, more consistently, and more often than most other feminists. I do not think she knew what she was doing, and I think she was often "wrong." I find some of her conclusions inadequate and even bigoted for my time and place. As an English-language feminist intellectual, I think I would recognize her as my forebear and the ancestor of my culture more readily than I would identify my illiterate Irish American great-grandmother who came to America in 1850 to escape the potato famine--or Emma Goldman, the Russian American anarchist feminist whom I would like a great deal, and whose radical twentieth-century ideas I enjoy exploring. But Goldman and our great-grandmothers have had minimal influence on what most American and English women think, and what we socially assume even outside the range of our conscious deliberations, whereas Martineau spelled out a century ahead of us these thoughts and deliberations. Harriet Martineau's radicalism led her to make a cogent, rational economic argument about conditions in Ireland in 1843 that included specific consideration of the special poverty of women in the same decade that my great-grandmother Graham was preparing for her boat trip to New Orleans to avoid starvation near Dublin. Martineau's kind of radicalism rattled the whole Anglo-American cognitive universe as well as the political one. Unlike the radicalism of the Emma Goldmans, it set in place the cognitive assumptions the majority of us, whether socialist, radical, or liberal feminists, operate under today, whether fully consciously or vaguely from within our culture's orientation to the world. These assumptions are the belief in order, the belief that change will bring about betterment, the belief that knowledge is power, the belief that the individual will do good if she or he is taught the good, and, above all, the substitution of a science of society for a theological or speculative base, as the first premise for other individual and collective ideas.

For the contemporary British journalist Sarah Curtis and me, and, I believe, the majority of the world that looks to concepts originating in English, Harriet Martineau articulated the world view that was formative, comprehensible, palatable for our feminism. For Martineau, it was very much a part of a whole, of politics, of economics, of life-style, of philosophy, of a belief system. Being inside the paradigm, she did not know this was so. She gave us our liberal faith in progress, science, and order, a faith that included feminism, what she and her contemporaries called the woman question, which would have as its "natural," inevitable outcome rights of women corresponding to those of men.

Although in our day challenges to the paradigm, both the undergirding philosophic one and the feminist one, have arisen, making us conscious of the characteristics of that world view and challenges to it, I believe that what Martineau gave us is an explanation of the fundamental intellectual precepts on which most of our feminism is posited. A retrospective look at some of her works on the subject of women and some of her advocacy of women's causes will help us, I believe, explain to ourselves where we have come from.


1. Quoted in R.K. Webb, Harriet Martineau (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), p. 114.

2. Sarah Curtis, quoted in Observer, February 17, 1974, p. 26.

3. Though, like other women writers, she was indebted for encouragement and opportunity to many men. W. J. Fox of the Monthly Repository first paid her for her writing, trained her in his study, and with his publisher brother Charles was responsible for putting her political economy tales into print. Her beloved older brother Thomas, who died young, on discovering that she was the anonymous Discipulus in the Repository, encouraged her to write seriously. To her even more adored younger brother James, she owed early companionship, affection, and advice that led to the establishment of her career. After she was established, many men, members of Parliament various government commissioners, and celebrated male literary figures contributed to the stream of information that allowed her to keep informed and to write intelligently. It was men, too, who hurt her most, James the foremost of them when he, by then an eminent member of the Unitarian clergy, wrote a scathing review of a book on which she collaborated and which disavowed Christianity. That exchange caused a permanent rupture between them.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 1-7.

Martineau's Life and Background

Born into a middle-class manufacturer's family in Norwich at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Harriet Martineau found in her personal and social circumstances factors that helped her--albeit sometimes because she reacted against them--to become an independent woman and a thoughtful social critic. Norwich was a provincial cathedral city, but the Martineau family went to chapel as Unitarians. In region-, religion-, and class-conscious England, Martineau started as an outsider. Norwich was not London, the political and cultural center and the birthplace of new trends and ideas. Unitarians were not members of the Church of England, but Dissenters, as chapelgoers were called in England, which placed the Martineaus outside the religious Establishment as well. And Unitarians were as a group left-wing politically and intellectually, as well as religiously, which placed them outside popular conventions. In fact, being social and intellectual frontrunners was at that time already the mark of Unitarians, although their views were often considered deviant by the mainstream.

Martineau's family was in many respects typically middle class, and she described these aspects matter-of-factly in her Autobiography. "My grandfather, who was one of the honorable series [of surgeons], died at the age of forty-two, of a fever caught among his poor patients. He left a large family, of whom my father was the youngest. When established as a Norwich manufacturer, my father married Elizabeth Rankin, the eldest daughter of a sugar refiner at Newcastle upon Tyne. My father and mother had eight children, of whom I was the sixth: and I was born on the 12th of June, 1802." [4] She experienced neither the privilege of aristocracy nor the oppression of the working classes, but had a consciousness of the meaning of both privilege and deprivation from her vantage point as a member of her particular family, and then as an individual subject to the vicissitudes of earning her living by selling her product. Although she was sometimes patronizing of the poor and solicitous of the wealthy, she was often able to be clear-sighted about social realities through the lens of her middle-class origins.

Along with her middle-class and outsider status, her psychological estrangement as a child gives another, at least equally important, clue to her adult perceptivity, which was both socially profound and personally eccentric. In her memoir she describes without comment her troubled childhood. As a child she was often terribly unhappy, morose, and distressed, though she was very pious and received an uncommonly good education for a girl of her time. Offering no suggestion of its meaning, she recounts an anxiety dream she had when she was four years old. Out for a walk with her nurse-maid and the other children, she was beckoned into a public house by a stag with high antlers. Frightened, she returned home in the dusk to be welcomed into a sunlit kitchen where she was lifted up into the sunlight by her mother and given sugar to eat. In waking life her mother was cold to her and she had frequent indigestion, so the dream readily admits to a post-Freudian interpretation as a cry for attention and protection from the threats and discomforts in her troubled small-child's universe.

One of the pleasures of her early memories was expounding her religious views to "the baby," her favorite brother James, in his crib. Her anxiety and morbidity were at times acute and her health delicate, and these difficulties were linked by her to her childhood religion which was, however, her chief pleasure. She wrote, "While I was afraid of everybody I saw, I was not in the least afraid of God. Being usually very unhappy, I was constantly longing, for heaven, and seriously, and very frequently planning suicide in order to get there." [5]

A favorite childhood fantasy would take place in the Octagon Chapel, their Unitarian meeting place in Norwich, which had unusual windows in the roof. Young Harriet would stare up at the high windows and imagine angels coming to get her and taking her away in full view of the congregation.

It was in the emotional context of infantile hunger for attention, anxiety, and morbid comfort in religion that Martineau was educated alongside James. They first studied at home, learning reading and numbers, Latin and music. Her older brother Thomas was their Latin teacher. Then in 1813, she and her sister Rachel were sent to a new Unitarian girls' school in Norwich headed by the Reverend Isaac Perry. During their two years there she added French to her studies. Upon the closing of the school, she again studied a classical course at home, although she and her sisters were also taught domestic skills, particularly sewing. It was during the time that she was in Perry's school that she began to lose her hearing. The deafness worsened when she was sixteen, and she became almost entirely deaf, though she used an ear trumpet and overcame the disabling effects of deafness as an adult.

In 1818 she was sent to Bristol to a school run by the wife of her mother's brother. There she found in her Aunt Kentish a compassionate human influence and in the Reverend Lant Carpenter, the Bristol Unitarian minister, a mentor she idolized. The fifteen months spent in Bristol provided both personal and intellectual release for her. She returned to Norwich suffering deafness, but somewhat liberated from mental and emotional stress.

Carpenter introduced her to the ideas of David Hartley and Joseph Priestley, and their philosophy of necessity held her attention for some years to come. Only a step to the side of Calvinist predestination, but couched in the language of philosophy, necessarianism was a doctrine of causation that held that everything was a consequence of what had preceded it, that there is no free human action, no free will, but a necessary sequence of effects brought about unavoidably by what had gone before them. [6] The other central philosophical influence she felt was utilitarianism. First studying such radical philosophers as Jeremy Bentham and James Mill on her own, she was later to meet Mill in London.

By the late 1820s, Martineau, herself in her twenties, was a serious but little-known writer, whose boundaries were the Unitarian religion, its propagation and interpretation. She was, however, a quick and searching student, if a solitary one, open to new ideas. Her brother James had by then been sent off for formal education at the Unitarian college at York, later to become Manchester College, Oxford, which he was one day to head as principal, but Harriet remained at home, as women did.

Her older brother Thomas died; her father's business failed; and he, too, died. His investments on behalf of his family failed, and Martineau was left to find ways to support herself. Earning some money from her needlework, at which she was very skillful all her life, and fifteen pounds a year from the Monthly Repository, for which she had written without pay until her time of financial need, she decided that she must earn her livelihood from her writing.

Visiting James in his parish in Dublin she hit upon the idea of a series of tales to illustrate the concepts of political economy in which she had newly become interested. She determined with James's advice that she would publish a monthly series over two years. Discouraged by several publishers, she finally was helped by W. J. Fox, her editor at the Monthly Repository, to persuade his brother, Charles Fox, to bring out the tales. The terms were very unfavorable to her, and he made more money from her work than she ever did, but the first number of the Illustrations of Political Economy was an instant success, and her reputation was made. She worked feverishly for two years to keep to her tight schedule. She moved to London, was celebrated in London society, and her thought, as well as her life, moved permanently into another realm.

Whigs and Tories alike asked her to write on their causes. Although she was not partisan, she found the Whigs' views more compatible. She formed friendships with such political and intellectual notables as Richard Monckton Milnes, Charles Buller, and Thomas Malthus. Lord Brougham, the Scottish political leader, was quite taken with her and enlisted her to write on behalf of poor law reform. She visited with Thomas and Jane Carlyle. She was approached by Robert Owen to endorse his socialism, but she resisted. She was "in" as a literary figure in London.

After the strenuous labors of these two years, she was exhausted. On the suggestion of Lord Henley, [7] who told her that she would enjoy seeing the United States where justice and liberty flourished, she traveled in the United States from 1834 to 1836. Vowing that she had no intention of writing about her travels, she nevertheless kept a journal. Her lassitude was too great, she insisted, to write profitably. However, on board ship, she wrote a chapter entitled "How to Observe Morals and Manners" for a work that had been requested by a publisher.

Her American journey was quite splendid. She was entertained by leading people of politics and letters and by fashionable society throughout the country. She also talked to scores of common folk and had varied experiences from chopping wood on the frontier, to visiting prisons, to being a guest at the White House. Near the end of her stay she spoke up in a public meeting for the abolitionists of William Lloyd Garrison's circle and lost much of her welcome in the United States, since the abolitionists were thought wildly fanatical by many Americans at the time.

Upon her return she published Society in America, in which she measured American society against its own principle of democracy. She cringed over the publisher's title; "Theory and Practice of Society in America" was what she wanted to call it. It was followed by the more anecdotal Retrospect of Western Travel, and only after that, the methodological book How to Observe Morals and Manners.. During this period she also published in several periodicals, and her novel Deerbrook appeared.

In the spring of 1839, again overtired, she took a trip to the Continent, but while in Venice illness forced her to return home. For nearly five years she lay ill at Tynemouth under the care of her physician brother-in-law, Thomas Greenhow. Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, offered her a public pension, but she declined on the grounds of not wanting to be in the pay of one party or another in government, a personal action reflecting her deep-seated economic philosophy combined with what we would now call a sense of professionalism as a journalist. Her friends raised money privately to invest for her in long-term annuities. Though an invalid, she published during the Tynemouth years a novel, The Hour and the Man, based on the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture, black political liberator of Haiti; a series of children's books; and a practical manual, Life in the Sick-Room. in 1844, she was introduced to mesmerism, an early and controversial form of hypnotism, was mesmerised, and soon got well. She believed she was cured by mesmerism, and, insulting her physician, published "Letters on Mesmerism" in the Athenaeum. It was not until a coroner's post mortem examination showed that she had had an ovarian tumor that her doctor was vindicated; but in 1844 personal and professional hostility swirled, and some members of her family stopped talking to her for a while. Greenhow wrote an angry rebuttal in the press, and Martineau became known to the general public as one of the people involved in the mesmerism debate.

I think her dogmatic approval of mesmerism is one piece in the puzzle of her emotional and rational contradictions. For so logical and analytic a writer to participate in such a mysterious and controversial medical process might seem bewildering. However, I think it makes sense as a link between the religious faith she was leaving behind and her need for something other than sheer theory and argument as a stabilizer for personal meaning in her life. She never overcame her personal rigidity, which sometimes led to her ideas being unnecessarily cast in concrete. Otherwise, she might not have needed any authoritative system, or she might have found flexibility for change within her original philosophical and religious framework. Her exhaustion and her volatile behavior in the publication of the mesmerism letters suggest that emotional distress was at least a part of her illness. The comfort of mesmerism may well have relieved her, since it gave her something new to believe in, something that purported to be "scientific," yet came from a nonphysical power similar to the power she had hoped for in her abandoned childhood God. But, also, if one is willing to consider the evidence of Greenhow's interpretation of the post mortem in 1876, the tumor in her abdomen might have moved in fortuitous concert with the mesmerist's acts.

One of her acquaintances among the advocates of mesmerism invited her to the Lake District after she recovered, and she so enjoyed the area that she decided to buy a small plot of land and build a house there. Her house, The Knoll, at Ambleside, was finished in 1846. Loving her new home and relishing her renewed health, she went about her work with fresh vigor.

A trip and a new acquaintance during the first Ambleside years provided another step in her changed intellectual direction. Mr. and Mrs. Richard V. Yates invited her to go with them to Egypt and Palestine; and on her return in 1847, she wrote Eastern Life, Present and Past.. [8] The book focused on those lands as the cradle of four great religions. She presented a not entirely developed thesis that those religions were founded by human beings, not divinely revealed, as their practitioners usually believed.

Her new acquaintance, Henry G. Atkinson, fueled with his skepticism her movement out of Christianity into atheism. She met Atkinson in 1845 and became greatly attached to him. In 1851 they published together Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development, largely Atkinson's work, discrediting all theological explanations of intellectual problems. James Martineau's antagonistic review of this book was the source of the permanent breach between them.

Meanwhile, her political journalism had gone on apace. She wrote Forest and Game-Law Tales and was asked by Charles Knight in 1848 to finish a "History of the Thirty Years' Peace" that he had begun. Not having written history before and cautious about writing current history, she nevertheless wrote a work that has received good marks from professional historians of several generations.

Early in the 1850s Martineau took two steps that stretched her intellectually and established her in the final professional capacity of her career. She began writing as a kind of foreign correspondent and then political commentator for the Daily News, a remarkable and unusual position for a woman, which eventuated in her writing several editorials a week for over fifteen years. Simultaneously, as she was finishing the History of the Peace, she read and then translated and abridged Auguste Comte's Positive Philosophy. Comte was to articulate for her the philosophical position she needed to unify her own thought, the social scientific method.

In the preface of her abridgment and translation of Comte's Positive Philosophy, Harriet Martineau wrote:

Whatever else may be thought of the work, it will not be denied that it ascertains with singular sagacity and soundness the foundations of human knowledge, . . . and that it establishes the true filiation of the sciences within the boundaries of its own principle. Some may wish to interpolate this or that; some to amplify, . . . but any who question the general soundness of the exposition, . . . are of another school, and will simply neglect the book. It is not for such that I have been working, but for students who are not schoolmen; who need conviction, and must best know when their need is satisfied. When this exposition of Positive Philosophy unfolds itself in order before their eyes, they will, I am persuaded, find there at least a resting-place for their thought,--a rallying-point of their scattered speculations,--and possibly an immoveable basis for their intellectual and moral convictions. [9]

In the work that follows this introduction, Martineau turned six volumes of difficult and wordy French philosophy into two volumes of clear English for the general reader. [10] The passage quoted above, written at the peak of her adult powers in 1852, echoes "the greatest good for the greatest number," "the free marketplace of ideas," the importance of first principles, the need to appeal to the common person, the framework of morality, and the sure triumph of good, all of which were cornerstone doctrines of Martineau's earlier intellectual circles, the utilitarian or radical philosophers, the political economists, the Unitarians, and the necessarians. Also, these beliefs are rooted here in a verbalization of faith that sprang from a once-religious soil. The new faith that Comte's philosophy gave her as she neared fifty years of age was continuous in many ways with her old one. She found better expression for what she already believed in the way Comte said it. Comte had developed a view of a hierarchy of fundamental intellectual postures: the theological, which was founded on revealed religion, superseded by the metaphysical, which was posited on speculative reasoning and which was to be superseded by the positive sciences, founded on experiment and observation. Further, in the hierarchy of sciences, sociology would be the highest. Thus a science of society would be the zenith of sciences.

For Martineau, if not for modern readers, this resolved the contradiction between authority and investigation. She could retain an absolute posture in method, and thus not have to abandon the traces of her necessarianism and her need for commitment, and yet allow for flexibility in the outcome, in results. She could then subscribe to a First Cause and rest easy that people misunderstood her viewpoint when they called her an atheist. The First Cause would eventually yield knowledge of itself to the highest science, sociology. It could be safely predicted that a fully scientific explanation of human beings was possible. Knowing human societies in their variations is all one needs to know, all there is "above" the physical world. This belief was for Martineau progressive, enlightening, practical, and satisfying, and provided the equivalent of religious fulfillment, although she did not literally see it as a religion as Comte eventually did.

A few years after her move to Ambleside, Martineau again became seriously ill. On going down to London to be examined for what she thought was heart disease, she again came to the conclusion that she was fatally ill, even though her physicians seem to have told her otherwise. In 1855, she put her life in order for her death, including writing her Autobiography. Though largely confined to her home after that, she had many more productive years of writing for the Daily News and staying in the thick of things political through the mail. She was to make some of her best contributions to women's causes during those last invalid years. She died in 1876, having been inactive for only a very few years. [11]


4. Harriet Martineau, Autobiography. With Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman, 4th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Co.), vol. 1, p. 6. All references to the Autobiography are from this edition.

5. Ibid., p. 14.

6. For a clear explanation of Martineau's necessarian views, see the excellent biography by Valerie Kossew Pichanick, Harriet Martineau: The Woman and Her Work, 1802-76 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980)

7. A wealthy philanthropist, relative of Lord Brougham, with whom Martineau apparently had only one meeting. According to her Autobiography (vol. 1, pp. 203-204), he was introduced to her by members of his family with the hope that she would be a good influence on him and help counteract his tendency to give away money foolishly. Mentally ill, he "disappeared from society" before she returned from the United States and soon died, giving her no opportunity to report to him on the travels he had suggested.

8. She refers to her hostess as "Mrs. Yates," or "Mrs. Richard V. Yates," but does not give her first name either in the account of the journey in her Autobiography (vol. 1, pp. 53l -552) or in Eastern Life, Present and Past (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848).

9. "Preface," The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, freely translated and condensed by Harriet Martineau (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 853), vol. 1, p. ix.

10. It is interesting to note that Seymour Martin Lipset said he was doing the same thing to Harriet Martineau's work when he abridged and brought out a paperback edition of Society in America for American readers in 1962 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday). My motivation in condensing Martineau's huge quantity of extravagant Victorian prose about women to achieve greater sharpness for 1980s readers was at least partially the same. (The Lipset edition has been reprinted by Peter Smith.)

11. The obituary she wrote for herself, which appeared in the Daily News, is the second selection in Section I.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 7-16.

An Autobiographic Memoir

Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, with Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman, 4th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Co., 1879), vol. 2, pp. 562-574. Originally published in Daily News (London), June 29, 1876. Written in 1855.

The introduction to the memoir published in the Daily News.

"We regret to announce the death of Harriet Martineau. The following memoir, though written in the third person, was from her own pen. The frankness of its self-criticism makes it necessary to guard the reader against confounding her own strict and sometimes disparaging judgment of herself with the impressions made by her upon others."

Harriet Martineau was born in 1802, in the city of Norwich, where the first of the name settled in 1688. David Martineau, the earliest of whom any record remains, was a French Protestant, who came over on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He married a French lady, whose family emigrated in the same ship, and pursued his profession as a surgeon in Norwich, where a succession of surgeons of the name existed, till the death of the most eminent of them, Philip Meadows Martineau (the uncle of Harriet), in 1828. He was considered the most eminent provincial surgeon of his day. The eldest brother of Harriet--a man of qualifications so high as to promise to sustain the honour of his name and profession in the old city--died before the age of thirty, and only one member of the family now remains in the city where many generations grew up. Harriet was the third daughter, and the sixth of eight children of Thomas Martineau, who was a manufacturer of the Norwich staples,--bombazine and camlet. [5] His acquaintance with Dr. Parr was kept up and signalized by the gift of a black camlet study-gown every year or so, a piece of the right length being woven expressly for the doctor and dyed with due care.

There was nothing remarkable about the childhood and youth of any of Thomas Martineau's children, unless in the case of Thomas, the eldest son, already referred to. His scholarship was of a high quality, and his mind was altogether of the rare ripeness and richness which comes of the equable cultivation of the intellectual and moral nature. The remarkable feature of the family story, in those days, was the steady self-denial, and clear, inflexible purpose with which the parents gave their children the best education which they could, by all honourable means, command. In those times of war and middle-class adversity, the parents understood their position, and took care that their children should understand it, telling them that there was no chance of wealth for them, and about an equal probability of a competence or of poverty; and that they must, therefore, regard their education as their only secure portion. Harriet came in for her share of this advantage, being well furnished with Latin and French (to which in due time she added Italian and German), and exercised in composition as well as reading in her own language and others. The whole family, trained by parental example, were steady and conscientious workers; but there were no tokens of unusual ability in Harriet during any part of her childhood or youth. Her health was bad, her tone of spirits low, her habit of mind anxious, and her habits of life silent, and as independent as they could be under the old-fashioned family rule of strictness and the strong hand. At her entrance upon womanhood a deafness, unperceived during her childhood and slight in youth, was aggravated by a kind of accident, and became so severe as to compel (for other people's accommodation as well as her own) the use of a trumpet for the rest of her life. This misfortune, no doubt, strengthened her habits of study, and had much to do with the marking out of her career. What other effects it produced upon her she has shown in her "Letter to the Deaf."

Her first appearance in print was before she was out of her teens, in a religious periodical; the same in which the late Judge Talfourd had made his early attempts not very long before. [6] Not only her contributions to the "Monthly Repository," but her first books were of a religious character, her cast of mind being more decidedly of the religious order than any other during the whole of her life, whatever might be the basis and scope of her ultimate opinions. Her latest opinions were, in her own view, the most religious,--the most congenial with the emotional as well as the rational department of human nature. In her youth she naturally wrote what she had been brought up to believe, and her first work, "Devotional Exercises," was thoroughly Unitarian. Of this class, and indeed of all her early writings, the only one worth mention is the little volume "Traditions of Palestine," which first fixed attention upon her, and made her name known in the reviews. There are some even now who prefer that little volume to all her other writings. Before it was out its writer had formed the conception of the very different kind of work which at once and completely opened her career, her "Illustrations of Political Economy." Her stimulus in all she wrote, from first to last, was simply the need of utterance. This need she had gratified early; and those who knew her best were always aware that she was not ambitious, though she enjoyed success, and had pride enough to have suffered keenly under failure. When, in 1829, she and her sisters lost their small fortunes by the failure of the house in which their money was placed, Harriet continued to write as she had written before, though under the new liability of having no money to spend upon ventures. Without capital, without any literary connections (except the editor of the "Monthly Repository"), without any visible means of accomplishing her object, she resolved to bring out a series of "Illustrations of Political Economy," confident that the work was at that time (1831) very much needed by the working-classes, to say nothing of other persons who had influence in the community, agitated as it then was by the Reform struggle. That Reform struggle and the approach of the cholera on its first visit made the booksellers disinclined to publish any thing. Messrs. Baldwin and Cradock had all but consented to the scheme, and had in fact engaged a stitcher for the monthly volumes, when they took fright and drew back. Harriet Martineau's forthcoming Autobiography will of course tell the story of the struggle she passed through to get her work published in any manner and on any terms. Almost every considerable publisher had refused it; the Diffusion Society had declined it, on the report of their sub-committee against it. [7] It appeared, however, at the beginning of 1832, when its writer was worn out with anxiety and fatigue, and had met with uniform discouragement, except in her own home, where her own confidence that the book would succeed, because it was wanted, commanded the sympathy of her family. In a fortnight after the day of publication her way was open before her for life. The work reached a circulation of about ten thousand in the next few years. The difficulties under which it appeared prevented her being enriched by it; and her own unalterable view of what it could and what it could not effect prevented her expecting too much from it, either in regard to its social operation or its influence on her own fame. The original idea of exhibiting the great natural laws of society by a series of pictures of selected social action was a fortunate one; and her tales initiated a multitude of minds into the conception of what political economy is, and of how it concerns every body living in society. Beyond this, there is no merit of a high order in the work. It did not pretend to offer discoveries, or new applications or elucidations of prior discoveries. It popularized, in a fresh form, some doctrines and many truths long before made public by others. Those were the days of her success in narrative, in fiction. In about ten years from that time she had nearly ceased to write fiction, from simple inability to do it well. On the whole, perhaps, her novel of "Deerbrook" has been the most popular of her works of fiction, though some prefer her history (in the form of a romance) of Toussaint L'Ouverture ("The Hour and the Man"), and others again her story-book for children, written in illness,--"The Playfellow." But none of her novels or tales have, or ever had, in the eyes of good judges or in her own, any character of permanence. The artistic aim and qualifications were absent; she had no power of dramatic construction; nor the poetic inspiration on the one hand, nor critical cultivation on the other, without which no work of the imagination can be worthy to live. Two or three of her Political Economy Tales, are, perhaps, her best achievement in fiction,--her doctrine furnishing the plot which she was unable to create, and the brevity of space duly restricting the indulgence in detail which injured her longer narratives, and at last warned her to leave off writing them. It was fortunate for her that her own condemnation anticipated that of the public. To the end of her life she was subject to solicitations to write more novels and more tales; but she for the most part remained steady in her refusal. Her three volumes of "Forest and Game Law Tales" and a few stories in "Household Words," written at the express and earnest request of Mr. Dickens, [8] and with little satisfaction to herself, are her latest efforts in that direction.*

Her popularity was, however, something extraordinary during the appearance of her "Illustrations of Political Economy." It was presently necessary for her to remove to London, to be within reach of the sources of information rendered indispensable by the success of her scheme and the extension of her influence. She lived in a lodging in Conduit Street for some months, till her mother joined her in London. Their house was in Fludyer Street, Westminster; and there they lived till a serious and long illness compelled Harriet Martineau to leave London, to which she never returned as a resident. On her first taking up her abode there many foolish stories were afloat about the origin of her series, and the aid she received in it from Lord Brougham and others. The facts were that the enterprise was wholly her own, and the execution of it also; and that Lord Brougham in particular knew nothing whatever about her or her work till his secretary sent him the first five numbers half a year after the publication began. His lordship's first thought was to engage her assistance in illustrating the evils of the old poor-law and the intended provisions of the new; and her four little volumes on the poor-laws appeared during the publication of her larger work. The two years which followed her first great success were the busiest of a busy life. All advocates of all schemes applied to her for cooperation. She was plunged at once into such a social whirl that she dined out every day but Sundays. New material for her work was always accumulating on her hands; and besides the production of one number, and occasionally two, of her little volumes per month, she had an unmanageable amount of correspondence always pressing upon her. It was at that time that she formed the habit which she continued for the rest of her life,--of sitting up late, while going on to rise early. She took, on an average, five hours or five and a half of sleep, going to bed at one in the morning, and being at her breakfast at half past seven, to save the precious morning hours for her most serious business. Such was her practice, with few intervals, to the date of her last illness.

Before the publication of her work was completed she had sailed for America. At first her object was simply to travel for the sake of recreation and repose; but, at the suggestion of the late Lord Henley, she turned her face in the direction of the United States, in order to examine some points of social policy and morals, honourable to the Americans and worthy of our emulation, but generally overlooked by European travellers who go to amuse themselves and return to quiz. She hoped to learn some secrets of success in the treatment of criminals, the insane, and other unhappy classes, and in the diffusion of education. She succeeded in her aims in some measure; but the interest of the antislavery question just at that time absorbed every other. She arrived just at the culmination of that reign of terror which she described after her return in the "Westminster Review," in the narrative entitled "The Martyr Age of the United States," which was reprinted as a pamphlet, and by which the nature and significance of the antislavery movement in America (where it involved the entire political and personal liberty of every citizen) were first made known in this country. Harriet Martineau, received with unbounded hospitality and unmeasured flatteries, though known to have written an antislavery story in her series, was not converted to the American view; as had been hoped and expected. Under circumstances in which she had no choice but to speak out she condemned slavery and its political consequences as before; and, for some months preceding her return, she was subjected to insult and injury, and was even for some weeks in danger of her life while travelling where the tar-barrel, the cowhide, and the pistol were the regimen prescribed for and applied to abolitionists, and threatened especially in her case. In her books upon America she said little or nothing of her personal share in the critical troubles of the time, because her purpose was, not to interest the public in her adventures, but to exhibit, without passion or prejudice, the actual condition of society in the United States. Its treatment of herself is rather a topic for her Autobiography, and there, no doubt, it will be found.

After an absence of two years she returned to England in August, 1836, and early in the next spring she published "Society in America." Her own opinion of that work changed much for the worse before her death. It was written while she was in the full flow of sympathy with the theoretical American statesmen of that time, who were all a priori political philosophers to a greater or less degree like the framers of the Declaration of Independence. Her intercourse with these may be traced in the structure and method of observation of her book, and her companionship with the adorers of Thomas Carlyle in her style. Some constitutional lawyers of the United States have declared that there is no error in her account of the political structure and relations of the Federal and State governments of that country; and the book contains the only account we have of the condition of slavery, and of the country under it, at the time of the rise of the abolition movement. But, on the whole, the book is not a favourable specimen of Harriet Martineau's writings, either in regard to moral or artistic taste. It is full of affectations and preachments, and it marks the highest point of the metaphysical period of her mind. [9] Little as she valued the second work on America--"Retrospect of Western Travel"--which she wrote at the request of her publishers, to bring into use her lighter observations on scenery and manners, it was more creditable to her mood, and perhaps to her powers, than the more ambitious work. The American abolitionists, then in the early days of their action, reprinted as a pamphlet the parts of these two works which relate to the slave institutions of their country, and sowed it broadcast over the land. The virulence with which the Southern press denounces her to this day, in company with Mrs. [Maria Weston] Chapman and Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe, seems to show that her representations were not lost on the American public. If they are operating at the end of so many years, there must be truth in them. Though the customary dispensers of hospitality in the United States passed from the extreme of courtesy to that of rudeness to the traveller, she formed valuable friendships in that country which lasted as long as her life. Her connection with the interests of America remained a close one, and its political course was a subject of action to a late period, and of study to the last.

In the interval between her return from America and her leaving London--somewhat less than three years--she wrote "How to Observe Morals and Manners," a volume of a series published by Mr. Knight, of which Sir Henry Delabeche's "How to Observe Geology" was the opening volume; a few of the volumes of the "Guide to Service," issued also by Mr. Knight; and her novel "Deerbrook." The "Guides to Service" were originated by the Poor-law Commissioners, with the object chiefly of training the ideas of children, especially in the workhouse schools, for the occupation of their lives. Harriet Martineau agreed to write the model number, provided she might take the "Maid-of-all-Work" for her subject; which she did, with the amusing result that at various turns of her life afterwards she was met by the popular belief that she had herself been a maid-of-all-work; a mistake which she regarded with some complacency whenever she encountered it. The other volumes of the Series written by her are the "Dressmaker" (in which she had some technical assistance from a professional person), the "Housemaid," and the "Lady's Maid."

On the publication of "Deerbrook," in April, 1839, she went abroad with a party of friends, partly to escort an invalid cousin, and partly for rest and refreshment to herself. She was not aware of the extent of her own illness; and she was brought home on a couch from Venice in June, in a state of health so hopeless that she left London and settled herself at Tynemouth, on the Northumberland coast, within reach of family care and tendance. There she remained, a prisoner to the couch, till the close of 1844. During her illness she wrote her second novel ("The Hour and the Man"), the four volumes of children's tales called "The Playfellow," and "Life in the Sick-Room," originating also, in concert with the present Countess of Elgin and Mr. Knight, the series since so well known as "The Weekly Volume." Of her recovery the public heard at the time much more than she desired and approved. At the instigation of several of her friends, and especially of her medical attendant, she made trial of mesmerism, for the purpose of obtaining some release from the use of opiates. To her own surprise and that of others, the treatment procured her a release from the disease itself, from which several eminent medical men had declared recovery to be impossible. In five months she was perfectly well. Meantime, doctors and strangers in various parts of the kingdom had rushed into print, without her countenance or her knowledge; and the amount of misrepresentation and mischief soon became so great as to compel her to tell the story as it really happened. [10] The commotion was just what might have been anticipated from the usual reception of new truths in science and the medical art. That she recovered when she ought to have died was an unpardonable offence. According to the doctors who saw her enter society again from the beginning of 1845, she was in a state of infatuation, and, being as ill as ever in reality, would sink down in six months. When, instead of so sinking down, she rode on a camel to Mount Sinai and Petra, and on horseback to Damascus, they said she had never been ill. To the charge that it had been "all imagination," her reply was that, in that case, it was the doctor's imagination and not hers that was involved; for they had told her, and not she them, what and how serious her illness was. To the friends who blamed her for publishing her experience before the world was ripe for it, her reply was, first, that she had no option; and next, that it is hard to see how the world is to get ripened if experimenters in new departments of natural philosophy conceal their experience. The immediate consequence of the whole business--the extension of the practice of mesmerism as a curative agent, and especially the restoration of several cases like her own--abundantly compensated Harriet Martineau for an amount of insult and ridicule which would have been a somewhat unreasonable penalty on any sin or folly which she could have committed. As a penalty on simply getting well when she was expected to die, the infliction was a curious sign of the times.

Being free to choose her place of abode, on her recovery, her friends universally supposed she would return to London and its literary advantages and enjoyment. But literature, though a precious luxury, was not, and never had been, the daily bread of her life. She felt that she could not be happy, or in the best way useful, if the declining years of her life were spent in lodgings in the morning and drawing-rooms in the evening. A quiet home of her own, and some few dependent on her for their domestic welfare, she believed to be essential to every true woman's peace of mind; and she chose her plan of life accordingly. Meaning to live in the country, she chose the most beautiful, and settled at the Lakes. She bought a field near Ambleside, opposite Fox How, and about a mile from Rydal Mount. [11] She built a house, and tried her hand successfully on the smallest of farms,--a farm of two acres. She set on foot some remedial schemes applicable to local mischiefs; and by degrees found herself pledged to a practice of delivering a series of lectures every winter to the mechanics of the little town and their families. She and they were so well acquainted, that there was nothing odd in this in their view, and no strangers were admitted, nor even the gentry of the place, for want of room. Her subjects were Sanitary Principles and Practice, the History of England, the History of North America, and the Scenes of her Eastern Travel. In her Ambleside home she lived for ten years of health and happiness, which, as she was wont to say, was worth all the rest of her life.

At various times since 1832 she had been sounded about accepting a pension on the Civil List; and she had repeatedly replied by objecting to receive one. Her objections remained in full force when Lord Melbourne made an express offer to her of a pension of 150, to be increased as circumstances permitted, as his last act before going out of power in 1841. Lord Melbourne was aware that she had invested her spare earnings in a deferred annuity, and that while hopelessly ill she was very poor. Her objections, however, bore no relation to this class of considerations. Her letter to Lord Melbourne found its way into the newspapers without her knowledge, and it speaks for itself. Not the less for this was she misunderstood. Nothing was further from her thoughts than passing condemnation on the literary pensioners of the time. They must judge for themselves, and their position was different. It was a matter of feeling with her quite as much as of principle; and she would have thankfully received any acknowledgment of past labours which might have been decreed, otherwise than through a method of favouritism. She felt that, once under pecuniary obligation to the sovereign and the minister, she could never again feel perfectly free on political questions, though Lord Melbourne generously deprecated any such conclusion. As it happened, she did very well without the money, and she wrote the "History of the Thirty Years' Peace," which she could hardly have done while in receipt of a pension.

This, the bulkiest of her works and the most laborious was undertaken at the request of Mr. Charles Knight, who had himself written the first few chapters, then deputed the work to another, and presently found it at a stand. Harriet Martineau had no idea whatever whether she could write history; but, on Mr. Knight's pressing his request, she went to work in August, 1848, and completed the work (after an interval of a few weeks) in the autumn of 1849. The introductory volume was written in 1850, also at Mr. Knight's solicitation. Without taking the chronicle form this history could not, from the nature of the case, be cast in the ultimate form of perfected history. All that can be done with contemporary history is to collect and methodize the greatest amount of reliable facts and distinct impressions, to amass sound material for the veritable historian of a future day,--so consolidating, assimilating, and vivifying the structure as to do for the future writer precisely that which the lapse of time and the oblivion which creeps over all transactions must prevent his doing for himself. This auxiliary usefulness is the aim of Harriet Martineau's history; and she was probably not mistaken in hoping for that much result from her labour. It rendered her a personal service which she had not anticipated. There was an impression abroad of her being a sort of demagogue or dangerous Radical, though it is hard to say which of her writings could have originated such an impression. The history dispelled it thoroughly and if it proved that she belonged to no party, it showed that it was not because she transcended the extremes of all.

The work which she published on her return from her Eastern travels, which she enjoyed as the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Richard V. Yates, of Liverpool, had shown that she was no longer a Unitarian nor a believer in revelation at all. "Eastern Life, Present and Past," exhibits the history and generation of the four great faiths--the Egyptian, the Jewish, the Christian, and the Mohammedan--as they appear when their birthplaces are visited in succession. She had passed from the Nile to Sinai; and thence to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Lebanon. The work in which she gave out her views on her return ranks, on the whole, as the best of her writings; and her reputation assumed a new, a graver, and a broader character after its appearance. It was followed in 1851 by a volume which, though not for the most part written by her, was of her procuring and devising. She took the responsibility of the Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development, which were for the greater part written by her friend, Mr. Atkinson, in reply to the short letters of her own which occupy a small proportion of the book. This book brought upon its writers, as was inevitable, the imputation of atheism from the multitude who cannot distinguish between the popular and the philosophical sense of the word,--between the disbelief in the popular theology which has caused a long series of religious men to be called atheists, and the disbelief in a First Cause,--a disbelief which is expressly disclaimed in the book. A full account of Harriet Martineau's faith and philosophy will of course be found in her forthcoming Autobiography, where it is more in place than here. As to the consequences of such an expression of them, they were somewhat different from what might have been expected. The reception of the volume disclosed some curious social facts, revealing to its authors an altogether unexpected proportion between the receivers and repudiators of dogmatic theology in this country. What is called "the entire periodical press" condemned the book, without, however, in any one case meeting its argument or recognizing its main subject; and yet was it excellently received and widely sympathized with. Every body supposed that its authors would be ruined, excluded from society, stopped in their work, and so forth. But the actual result was that this open avowal of heretical opinion made all the relations of life sounder than they had ever been. As Harriet Martineau declared, it dissolved all false relations and confirmed all true ones. At no time of her life was she more occupied, more prosperous, so cheered by sympathy, or so thoroughly happy, as during the interval between the publication of that book and the close of her labours.

Besides some small works, such as "Guide to the Lakes," it remained for her to bring out two of more general importance,--her volume on "Household Education," which is more popular than almost any of her works, and her condensation of Comte's "Positive Philosophy." The story of the intention and achievement of that work is told in its prefaces. Begun in 1852, it occupied the greater part of the year 1853, and appeared in November of that year. It was her last considerable work; and there is no other, perhaps, which so well manifests the real character of her ability and proper direction of her influence,--as far as each went. Her original power was nothing more than was due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a certain range. With small imaginative and suggestive powers, and therefore nothing approaching to genius, she could see clearly what she did see, and give a clear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularize, while she could neither discover nor invent. She could sympathize in other people's views, and was too facile in doing so; and she could obtain and keep a firm grasp of her own, and, moreover, she could make them understood. The function of her life was to do this, and, in as far as it was done diligently and honestly, her life was of use, however far its achievements may have fallen short of expectations less moderate than her own. Her duties and her business were sufficient for the peace and the desires of her mind. She saw the human race, as she believed, advancing under the law of progress; she enjoyed her share of the experience, and had no ambition for a larger endowment, or reluctance or anxiety about leaving the enjoyment of such as she had.

From the early part of 1852 she had contributed largely to the "Daily News," and her "Letters from Ireland" in the summer of that year were written for this paper. As her other works left her hands the connection with the paper became closer, and it was never interrupted except for a few months at the beginning of her last illness, when all her strength was needed for her Autobiography. When she had finished that task she had the work printed, and the engravings prepared for it under her own supervision, partly to avoid delay in its appearance (because any good that it could do would be best done immediately after her death), but chiefly to spare her executors all responsibility about publishing whatever may be found in the Memoir. Her last illness was a time of quiet enjoyment to her, soothed as it was by family and social love, and care, and sympathy, and, except for one heart-grief,--the loss in 1864 of her niece Maria, who was to her as a daughter,--free from anxiety of every kind, and amused by the constant interest of regarding life and its affair, from the verge of the horizon of existence. Her disease was deterioration and enlargement of the heart, the fatal character of which was discovered in January, 1855. She declined throughout that and subsequent years, and died-- [12]

--And died in the summer sunset of her home amid the Westmoreland mountains, on the 27th of June, 1876, after twenty-one more diligent, devoted, suffering, joyful years,--attended by the family friends she most loved, and in possession of all her mental powers up to the last expiring day; aged seventy-four years.

If, instead of dying so slowly, she had died as she could have wished and thought to have done, without delay, what a treasure of wise counsels, what a radiance of noble deeds, what a spirit of love and of power, what brave victorious battle to the latest hour for all things good and true, had been lost to posterity! What an example of more than resignation, of that ready, glad acceptance of a lingering and painful death which made the sight a blessing to every witness, had been lost to the surviving generation!

During all the last one-and-twenty years death was the idea most familiar and most welcome. It was spoken of and provided for with an easy freedom that I never saw approached in any other home, yet she never expressed a wish respecting a place of burial. [13] But a few days before her death, when asked if she would be laid in the burial-place of her family, she assented; and she lies with her kindred, in the old cemetery at Birmingham.


5. Types of cloth, silk.

6. Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795-1854) was a judge, poet, playwright (Ion, 1835), and editor (of Charles Lamb).

7. The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, formed by Henry Brougham (later Lord Brougham) in 1825 to publish new, particularly scientific, information cheaply for the working classes.

* After the above was in the drawer of the "Daily News" office, she wrote some historical fiction for "Once a Week" against her own judgment, and only to gratify Mr. Evans and Mr. Lucas, the proprietor and editor of "Once a Week."

8. Dickens was the editor of Household Words at the time to which she refers.

9. Here she refers to the second stage of Auguste Comte's epistemology, the first being theological, the second metaphysical, and the final and "best," scientific. By this writing she was a positivist in the Comtean mode. The reference to Carlyle is her way of saying she has rejected the romanticism he represents, it being a metaphysical form of thinking in the scheme she endorses here.

10. She engages here in a little manipulation of the truth. She published her "Letters on Mesmerism" in the Athenaeum in 1844 first, claiming among other things that her maid, Jane Arrowsmith, had effectively mesmerized her and was clairvoyant. This caused the biggest commotion, and her medical attendant, her physician and brother-in-law Thomas Greenhow, felt compelled to defend his reputation as a doctor. Apparently, he did so without his patient's permission, publishing his Medical Report of the Case of Miss H---- M----. See Pichanick, Martineau, pp. 129-137, for discussion and quotations from this exchange.

11. Fox How was the home of Hartley Coleridge, brother of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rydal Mount the home of William and Mary Wordsworth.

12. At this point the obituary written in 1855 by Martineau herself ends. Note her insertion of the 1864 death of her niece. The material that follows was written by her friend and literary executor, Maria Weston Chapman.

13. This is not so. In the library of Manchester College, Oxford, there is a series of letters from Harriet Martineau, written in 1855, addressed to a Unitarian minister friend, presumably Philip Carpenter, son of her adolescent mentor, Lant Carpenter, in which she gives detailed directions for her funeral and burial. She believes that because of her views "which the vulgar wd call atheistical" some of the people in her parish would object to her burial there (that is, in the Church of England churchyard a mile up the road from her house, a church in sight of the Wordsworths' house, Rydal Mount), so she asks him where the nearest Unitarian burial ground is and if he thinks she might be buried there. She instructs him in one letter to say in the service for her what he finds most natural. In another, written the next day, she tells him she forgot the day before to say she wants a simple funeral with no hatbands or scarves or feasting. It was, of course, more than twenty years before she died.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 35-49.

Harriet Martineau's Feminism

It is tempting to follow Martineau's own method and measure her feminism against specific principles. For historical fairness, they should be principles that she herself endorsed. Yet that would not yield a full enough picture, for it is my intent to show her contribution to later feminism, including that of our time, as well as to the efforts of her time. Thus, the criteria must be both her own and ones that we still consider important today, though we must be aware of the difference between those ideas that were deliberately feminist on her part and the ones to which we in a later age have assigned feminist significance.

Martineau, herself a model of women's accomplishment for later feminists, was often a genuine promoter of other women. She was sensitive and conscious of efforts made by women on women's behalf, even though her tongue could sometimes be acid in gossip about some women. Contemporary feminist scholars can note with appreciation that in her Illustrations of Political Economy she repeatedly gave Mrs. Jane Marcet credit for the idea of her own work. Though she raised her eyebrows at Mary Wollstonecraft's personal sexual behavior and what she regarded as her romantic excesses, she fully acknowledged Wollstonecraft as the first English public advocate of women's rights. Present at the dinner at which John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor met, she is reputed to have been one of the worst gossips about the long, devoted relationship Taylor and Mill maintained while Taylor was married to someone else. Yet she was supportive of their feminism. Although she was not very tolerant of or informed about sexuality and unorthodox relationships, she was very supportive of work, education, political rights, and personal dignity for women; and she went a long way in supporting all manner of their manifestations. She came to be able to do this by objectifying the actual women involved as she led their causes.

In a leader in the London Daily News published June 28, 1854, Harriet Martineau wrote that "the wife-beating which has excited so much attention for the last two or three years, and which we have endeavored to meet by express legislation, has revealed to alarmed thousands of us that the mistresses of tyrannical men have a great advantage over the wives in being able to free themselves from their tyrant when they please. They can tell the truth in court about the treatment they have undergone; for they have nothing to fear from the vindictiveness of the brute when he comes out of gaol again." [12] This observation came in response to a report of a parliamentary Commission on Divorce. A Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act was to pass in 1857, and Martineau's support of it in the newspaper and her expression of that support in terms of the easing of brutality against poor women are indications of her surprisingly foresighted feminist outlook. The new law only established a single court where there had previously been three different jurisdictions to handle divorce cases and did not actually give women much relief, but Martineau's argument is immensely important as an early feminist framework for later criticism and campaigns. Long before the coining of the word "feminist" and thirty years before the beginning of an organized women's rights campaign in England, Harriet Martineau was a wide-ranging, progressive, and thorough-going feminist in nearly every sense in which that word is used today. [13] Embracing practically every cause clearly in favor of women's advancement in her lifetime and taking up certain issues that were not so definitely identified as parts of the feminist fabric until the 1960s and 1970s, Martineau was a giant among early feminists. An overview of Martineau's writings and the issues and campaigns she fought for with her pen gives a contemporary reader both a profile of the emergence of feminism in nineteenth-century England and America and a theoretical foundation for the feminist social philosophy still dominant today.

She was the first Englishwoman to make the analogy between the American woman's lot and the slave's. [14] Publishing that claim in Society in America in the context of a full analysis of the situation of American women, she and her book received far more attention, both positive and negative, for her abolitionist views than for her feminism. Yet the book included a very astute chapter entitled "The Political Non-Existence of Women," in which she claimed that the democratic principle was violated by the denial of political participation to women. It was from women that she had learned much that she knew about the United States, and she gave credit to these women for their achievements and talents. At the same time she criticized the lack of authority and choice for American women and the resulting servitude for many of them.

Martineau's position as a model for today's feminists or as an inspiration for female achievers is important. Alice S. Rossi's inclusion of Martineau's chapter on women from Society in America in her selection of classic feminist statements, The Feminist Papers ( 1973), indicates the current value of Martineau's thought. In presenting her chapter from Martineau, Rossi especially represents Martineau as a forerunner of the discipline of sociology.

Others could make such a claim for her relation to economics, though Martineau was a popularizer in that field, not an original thinker. Although it would be much too extravagant to claim a significant place for her as a fiction writer--her didactic tales, children's stories, and novel Deerbrook having small current readership--it is, nevertheless, important to note that she wrote a considerable amount of fiction. The most comprehensive "first" that Martineau accomplished as a woman was as a journalist, for besides earning her living from her early thirties by writing numerous popular books and many articles for major journals, she contributed, as mentioned, over 1,600 editorials to the London Daily News on an enormous range of political and social topics during the 1850s and 1860S.

The historian Janet Courtney, writing in the 1930s about the British women's movement in the 1830s, believed Harriet Martineau to be the leading feminist of the period. Courtney wrote, "And when I found Harriet Martineau, the ablest of them all, announcing that the best advocates of women's rights would be the successful professional women and the 'substantially successful authoresses,' I recognized that she had put in a nutshell the whole truth about the women's movement." [15]

Courtney believed that in the 1830s women and women's rights made great advances only to fall back under the influence of Queen Victoria and the Victorians. Though Martineau did not write the passage Courtney selected until she wrote her Autobiography in 1855, faith in individual women's accomplishments was a central point of Martineau's feminism from the beginning.

The female role model idea is significant in Martineau's first published piece, "Female Writers of Practical Divinity," published in the Unitarian journal Monthly Repository in 1822. The article opens,

I do not know whether it has been remarked by others as well as myself, that some of the finest and most useful English works on the subject of Practical Divinity are by female authors. I suppose it is owing to the peculiar susceptibility of the female mind, and its consequent warmth of feeling, that its productions, when they are really valuable, find a more ready way to the heart than those of the other sex; and it gives me great pleasure to see women gifted with superior talents, applying those talents to promote the cause of religion and virtue. [16]

In contradiction to her theme, however, she signed the article, "Discipulus," implying a male author, a practice she followed in pseudonym or textual voice off and on throughout her career in spite of the fame she gained in the 1830s writing in her own name.

She was to echo her first printed sentiment about women achievers as models in a piece written as an obituary for Florence Nightingale when Nightingale was believed to be dying after the Crimean War, but not published until 1910 when Nightingale actually died. Florence Nightingale was the woman of her time whom Martineau perhaps most greatly admired, and she wrote,

Florence Nightingale encountered opposition--from her own sex as much as the other; and she achieved, as the most natural thing in the world, and without the smallest sacrifice of her womanly quality, what would beforehand have been declared a deed for a future age.

She was no declaimer, but a housewifely woman; she talked little, and did great things. When other women see that there are things for them to do, and train themselves to the work, they will get it done easily enough. There can never be a more unthought-of and marvellous career before any working woman than Florence Nightingale has achieved; and her success has opened a way to all others easier than anyone had prepared for her. [17]

Education for women was another theme Martineau pursued all her life. Her second published piece was on that topic. She was well aware early that intellectual occupation was not considered fitting for a girl, writing that "when I was young, it was not thought proper for young ladies to study very conspicuously; and especially with pen in hand. . . . and thus my first studies in philosophy were carried on with great care and reserve." [18] Martineau's youthful writings suggested that women should be educated in order to enhance their companionship with men and improve their teaching of their own children, although she always advocated a rigorous course of study for girls, physical exercise for girls as well as boys, and domestic arts for women in addition to the program followed by males. Her feminist consciousness grew, and in later life, she encouraged the idea of education of women for its own sake and recommended a full program of advanced subjects. As a public figure and in the press, she supported the establishment of the colleges for women in London, Queens College in Harley Street and the Ladies College in Bedford Square, of the first professional school of nursing at St. Thomas' Hospital in London, and of women's medical education.

Work for women was also a frequent theme. Martineau made a strong argument--amazing for the time--in favor of equal pay for equal work. Hers was not the literal argument still heard today that women should be paid the same amount of money for exactly the same jobs as men but was much stronger, insisting that equivalent labor deserves equal pay. She made it most forcefully, in fact, on behalf of the dairy-maids whose job of milking the cows twice daily, straining the milk, preparing cheese, and churning butter had formerly been exclusively a female occupation. She wrote that "such work as this ought at least to be paid as well as the equivalent work of men; indeed, in the dairy farms of the west of England the same labour of milking the kine is now very generally performed by men, and the Dorset milkmaid, tripping along with her pail, is, we fear, becoming a myth." [19]

In her writings on women's work Martineau repeatedly expressed a concern for health as well as pay. She wrote in several pieces of the degeneration of stamina and mental well-being experienced by governesses and servant women because of the crushing demands of their employers: "The physician says that, on the female side of the lunatic asylums, the largest class, but one, of the insane are maids of all work (the other being governesses). The causes are obvious enough: want of sufficient sleep from late and early hours, unremitting fatigue and hurry, and, even more than these, anxiety about the future from the smallness of the wages." [20] If not the insane asylum, then the workhouse followed for many of these women, for they did not earn enough to save for their old age. But it was better wages and the obligation of good advice from their employers on savings pensions for themselves that Martineau advocated. Ever the laissez-faire economist, she did not envision a social scheme for retirement benefits.

For middle-class married women, Martineau advocated improved household management skills exemplified in learning expert cookery. The teaching of such skills as cookery could also become an occupation. These women need not be housebound, though, for many of them were already engaged alongside their husbands, brothers, and fathers in shopkeeping, crafts, small manufacturing, and the deskwork, especially accounting, that went with such employment. Martineau believed that such women should be encouraged to be more active in these pursuits, but that they would be much more useful if they were taught sufficient arithmetic to manage sales and accounting effectively. Though she did not propose wide-scale female ownership of businesses in preference to men and typically discussed female shopkeeping as though husbands were in charge, she did encourage single women to learn business skills and widows to learn to manage their inherited shops to avoid having to remarry so quickly. She spoke of nursing and medicine as newly opened occupations that should be attractive to middle-class women and predicted that scientists, artists, and writers would emerge from among educated women.

When Harriet Martineau was fifty-two, she wrote to all her correspondents asking them to address her henceforth as "Mrs.," but her request had nothing to do with marriage. It was an acknowledgment that greater respect was carried by the title "Mrs." than "Miss" and an assertion that she was entitled to such respect. This was resonant with the original meaning of the word "mistress," of which "Mrs." was first an abbreviation, a word that meant female authority in the household and had nothing to do with marital status. That meaning was largely gone by the end of the eighteenth century, but a few distinguished nineteenth-century single women like Martineau attempted to renew it, showing a sensitivity to the dignity conveyed by a title. Their attempts came from the same impulse that pressed feminists of the 1970s to introduce "Ms." as a general title by which a woman might be addressed whatever her marital status.

Martineau was outspoken about the degradation and limits imposed on women by marriage, but she was understandably ambivalent in some of her statements and contradictory in some of her behavior having to do with marriage. In her time and place where marriage was so definitively normative for women, the wonder is that she was at times so piercingly critical of marriage in general, not that most of the time she fostered and approved of specific marriages between people she knew. This too is more consistent with contemporary feminists' views of the disabilities of marriage than with those of Martineau's own time.

This contradiction is vividly seen in two illustrations. In the "Memorials," Maria Weston Chapman reports the memory one of Harriet Martineau's oldest friends had of Martineau's deep regret at the marriage of a young lady friend. She related that Martineau said that marriage "would deprive her of larger opportunities of usefulness to the world." [21] Yet in 1854 she was apparently very happy to sponsor the wedding for her maid from her house at Ambleside. She wrote, refusing an invitation received from a Mrs. Barkworth: "Many thanks for your invitation; but the intended bridegroom will be here on Sunday, and I am engaged every day till after the wedding. My house, hands, heart and time will be very full till it is over." [22]

More enigmatic is her approval of Margaret Fuller's marriage to Count Ossoli during the last years of Fuller's life. Given her opinion that marriage would "deprive [one young woman] of larger opportunities of usefulness," it is striking to find Martineau writing of "that remarkable regeneration which transformed her [Fuller] from the dreaming and haughty pedant into the true woman. In a few months more she had loved and married; and how interesting and beautiful was the closing period of her life, when husband and child concentrated the power and affections which had so long run to waste in intellectual and moral eccentricity." [23] This is a rather severe judgment of Fuller, for although Martineau claims to have been her friend, twice in the Autobiography she sharply criticizes the American woman. She is resentful that Fuller negatively criticized Society in America for its emphasis on the abolition of American slavery. [24] She was also stung by a report from London that Fuller had called her "commonplace" after a visit as her houseguest at The Knoll. [25] Though near in age and occupation, and even in high-strung temperament, Martineau and Fuller were opposites philosophically, Martineau the rationalist, Fuller the romantic, Martineau the positivist, Fuller the transcendentalist. It is no wonder that they finally did not get along with each other. This evidence makes me wonder if Martineau was not being spiteful rather than truthful about the value of marriage for Margaret Fuller.

On marriage in theory, Martineau wrote in How to Observe Morals and Manners: " The traveller everywhere finds women treated as the inferior party in a compact in which both parties have an equal interest. Any agreement thus formed is imperfect, and is liable to disturbance; and the danger is great in proportion to the degradation of the supposed weaker party. The degree of the degradation of woman is as good a test as the moralist can adopt for ascertaining the state of domestic morals in any country." And "It is a matter of course that women who are furnished with but one object,--marriage--must be as unfit for anything when their aim is accomplished as if they had never any object at all. They are no more equal to the task of education than to that of governing the state; and, if any unexpected turn of adversity befals them, they have no resource but a convent, or some other charitable provision." [26] Her observations of marriage were confirmed by letters she received from Englishwomen describing the "intolerable oppression" of women under law and custom in England. [27]

Martineau published theoretical considerations of political equality for women several times between 1837 and 1851. All were about women in American society; and all were very positive. But only once, in a passage in her Autobiography, did she address at its most abstract level what was typically called in her day the woman question, and on that occasion she is atypically negative. The tone of that piece suggests that women will come to have political rights if women will be worthy of them. Most other times she was far more willing to indict the political system for excluding women.

The woman's suffrage campaign did not really get under way until the late 1860s when Martineau's health w as failing. However, she had written in 1855, "I have no vote at elections, though I am a tax-paying housekeeper and responsible citizen; and I regard the disability as an absurdity, seeing that I have for a long course of years influenced public affairs to an extent not professed or attempted by many men." [28]

She went on in that passage, however, to disclaim any intention of agitating over suffrage, believing that women would have a vote in time. The vote was clearly simply one among many women's issues for her, not the central, singular driving focus for women's rights that it came to be in both England and America after her death. Nevertheless, she readily signed the petition for women's suffrage that John Stuart Mill presented to Parliament in 1866. She admired Mill and believed him to be an effective supporter of women's rights, but adding her name to those of the 1,498 other women on the petition was not a strong gesture. Her conviction of the rightness of the principle of the vote for women, incidentally, was not shared by the ruling Queen Victoria, still mourning deeply for her husband, then dead for five years, nor by the most admired woman in England at the time and Martineau's friend, Florence Nightingale. [29]

Martineau's final act of political activism in her old age was on behalf of women and again in the service of a campaign led by another, the campaign of the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts led by Josephine Butler. This time a thoroughly feminist organization was launched. It was liberal and even patronizing in the sense that it consisted of "respectable" women working for "fallen" women. Nevertheless, this movement was radical in the sense that the women involved realized that all women were potentially incriminated by laws that identified prostitutes too vaguely and punished women but not men for acts of prostitution.

Martineau was invigorated by writing publicly for this campaign, which provided an appropriate finale for a distinguished career as journalist, thinker, and feminist.


The selections in this book were chosen to give a full view of the ways in which Harriet Martineau wrote about women and about those feminist issues, both historical and contemporary, that she addressed. Often she wrote several pieces on the same topic, and I usually picked the shortest one if it gave the complete scope of her argument. To choose from her many biographical works on women, I used two criteria: that a particularly feminist point was made and that the biographee v as herself notable. To my knowledge, the pieces on American women, Irish women, and the women in the harems in Cairo and Damascus are the only ones she wrote in a deliberately social mode about women in groups. I wanted to show how she attended to feminist material and developed feminist theory throughout her lifetime, so I chose material from different periods of her writing. Since my purpose was solely to develop the idea that over forty years Martineau fostered feminist causes and structured feminist theory in a great many works, I excluded from the selections printed here passages that were not directly about women. I have left nearly all of Martineau's spelling, punctuation, and phrasing as they were in the original source, even though occasionally one looks like a printer's error or a grammatical oversight. I have assumed that the reader's interest will be primarily on the topic of women, so I have kept to a minimum, interesting though it is, commentary or notes on the surrounding historical background or incidental figures in Martineau's texts.


12. Leader 2 beginning "Divorce and Matrimonial Causes," p. 4.

13. Alice S. Rossi, in The Feminist Papers (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), p. xiii, says that the word "feminism" was first used in print in a book review in the Athenaeum on April 27, 1895.

14. Martineau, Society in America, Lipset ed., pp. 126, 292. Sarah Grimke made the same analogy the same year, in her Letters to the Congregational Clergy, which shows that the analogy was being made in the abolitionist circles in which they both moved in the United States. Although Grimke and Martineau did not meet, the Grimke sisters, like Martineau, were welcomed and sponsored by Maria Weston Chapman when they first went to Boston, the year after Martineau's departure. Most of the chapter "Political Non-Existence of Women" as it originally appeared in Society in America (London: Saunders & Otley, 1837, vol. 1, pp. 148-154) is reprinted as the first selection in Section IV.

15. The Adventurous Thirties: A Chapter in the Women's Movement (London: Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, 1933), p. 1.

16. Monthly Repository 17 (October 1822): 593.

17. The obituary from which this passage is taken forms the closing selection of Section V.

18. Autobiography, vol. I, pp. 77-78.

19. "Female Industry," Edinburgh Review 222 (April 1859): 300.

20. Ibid., p. 307.

21. Autobiography, vol. 2, p. 157.

22. Harriet Martineau, manuscript letter to Mrs. Barkworth, n.d., n.p. Ashcombe Collection, 1917, Fitzwilliam Museum Library, Cambridge, England.

23. Autobiography, vol. 1, p. 518

24. Ibid., pp. 380-381.

25. Ibid., p. 518.

26. For more from this passage, see the first selection in Section II.

27. Autobiography, vol. 1, p. 406

28. Ibid., p. 303.

29. Doris Mary Stenton, The English Woman in History (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1957), p. 344.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 16-27.

Private: A Writer's Resolutions

Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, with Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman, 4th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Co., 1879), vol. 2, pp. 166-168. Written in 1829.

For some years past my attention has been more and more directed towards literary pursuits; and, if I mistake not, my capacity for their successful prosecution has increased, so that I have now fair encouragement to devote myself to them more diligently than ever. After long and mature deliberation, I have determined that my chief subordinate object in life shall henceforth be the cultivation of my intellectual powers, with a view to the instruction of others by my writings. On this determination I pray for the blessing of God.

I wish to hold myself prepared to relinquish this purpose, should any decided call of duty interfere; but I pray that no indolence or caprice in myself, no discouragement or ill-grounded opposition from others, may prevail on me to relinquish a resolution which I now believe to be rational, and compatible with the highest desire of a Christian.

I am now just twenty-seven years of age. It is my wish to ascertain (should life and health be spared) how much may be accomplished by diligent but temperate exertion in pursuit of this object for ten years.

I believe myself possessed of no uncommon talents, and of not an atom of genius; but as various circumstances have led me to think more accurately and read more extensively than some women, I believe that I may so write on subjects of universal concern as to inform some minds and stir up others. My aim is to become a forcible and elegant writer on religious and moral subjects, so as to be useful to refined as well as unenlightened minds. But, as I see how much remains to be done before this aim can be attained, I wish to be content with a much lower degree of usefulness, should the Father of my spirit see fit to set narrow bounds to my exertions. Of posthumous fame I have not the slightest expectation or desire. To be useful in my day and generation is enough for me. To this I henceforth devote myself, and desire to keep in mind the following rules. (A frequent reference to them is necessary.)

I. To improve my moral constitution by every means, to cultivate my moral sense; to keep ever in view the subordination of intellectual to moral objects; by the practice of piety and benevolence, by entertaining the freedom and cheerfulness of spirit which results from dependence on God, to promote the perfection of the intellectual powers.

II. To seek the assistance of God in my intellectual exertions, and his blessing on their results

III. To impart full confidence to my family respecting my pursuits, but to be careful not to weary them with too frequent a reference to myself; and to be as nearly as possible silent on the subject to all the world besides.

IV. To study diligently, 1. The Scriptures, good commentators, works of religious philosophy and practice,--for moral improvement; 2. Mental philosophy,--for intellectual improvement; 3. Natural philosophy and natural history, languages and history,--for improvement in knowledge; 4. Criticism, belles-lettres, and poetry,--for improvement in style. Each in turn, and something every day.

V. While I have my intellectual improvement ever in view, to dismiss from my thoughts the particular subject on which I have written in the morning for the rest of the day, i. e. to be temperate in my attention to an object.

VI. By early rising, and all due economy of time, and especially by a careful government of the thoughts, to employ my life to better purpose than heretofore.

VII. To exalt, enlarge, and refresh my mind by social intercourse, observation of external nature, of the fine arts, and of the varieties of human life

VIII. To bear in mind that as my determination is deliberately formed and now allowed to be rational, disappointments should not be lightly permitted to relax my exertions. If my object is conscientiously adopted, mortifications of vanity should prove stimulants, rather than discouragements. The same consideration should induce patience under painful labour, delay, and disappointment, and guard me against heat and precipitation.

IX. To consider my own interests as little as possible, and to write with a view to the good of others; therefore to entertain no distaste to the humblest literary task which affords a prospect of usefulness

X. Should my exertions ultimately prove fruitless, to preserve my cheerfulness, remembering that God only knows how his work may be best performed, and that I have no right to expect the privilege of eminent usefulness, though permitted to seek it. Should success be granted, to take no honour to myself, remembering that I possess no original power or intrinsic merit, and that I can receive and accomplish nothing, except it be given me from Heaven.

June, 1829

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 33-35.

Harriet Martineau on Women's Equal Rights

Harriet Martineau was a lifelong feminist, and she became one early and on her own. "The woman question" was what she and other like-minded nineteenth-century thinkers and activists called what we call feminism. [1] In addition to giving her individual attention to women and women's concerns Martineau participated in groups in both England and the United States that were fertile environments for deliberate efforts on women's behalf. Probably not too much should be made of the fact that she wrote admiringly of women writers in her first published piece ("Female Writers of Practical Divinity") or that she went to some length to establish the fact that the form she used for her political economy tales was derived from a woman. Still, these attributions acknowledged influences from women that she valued from the first.

Her first intellectual groups, the Norwich and then the London Unitarians and Utilitarians, were probably far more important in her development, since a component of the thought of both Unitarian religion and Utilitarian philosophy was favorable to women having a larger place in intellectual and public pursuits. Although the first of Martineau's several breaches with people she had once favored came with W. J Fox, the Unitarian editor, because of his setting up a household with Eliza Flowers without marriage, Martineau was surely influenced by Fox's liberality toward talented women and the intellectual role such women as Flowers played in Fox's editorship. Her scruples about sexual liaisons were more stereotypically Victorian than the views and practices of many of her associates. Yet sexuality per se was not a feminist issue in the nineteenth century. To consider it an obstacle to the realization of feminist goals is to interpret nineteenth-century views in light of twentieth-century feminism which has made the link between sexuality and gender role assignment. It is ironic from a contemporary feminist stance, if not from her own, that she regenerated or kept up correspondence or a working relationship with the men in such affairs, but not the women.

The American group with whom Martineau found the greatest affinity during her 1834-1836 travels, the Garrisonian abolitionists, like the British Unitarians and Utilitarians, valued the activity and importance of women and was markedly more advanced on the question than many other groups. Anti-slavery women's groups in America were to provide leaders and formative ideas in its early years for the movement for women's rights per se, a movement for women as well as a movement of and by women on behalf of slaves.

The five pieces that follow are ones in which Martineau addressed feminism in some general way. In the opening selection she questions the advisability of marriage for everyone, a position that required considerable bravery in 1838. She raised the question as a means of making judgments about the character of a society, but whatever its intent, it was a courageous question to ask and one that anticipates such contrasting variations of the theme in the 1970s as Kate Millett's "sexual politics" and Jessie Bernard's study of "his" and "hers" marriages that yield greater benefits to men and lesser benefits to women. Martineau was shrewd and discerning to pick the place of women and the treatment of women in marriage as indices of a society's distinctiveness.

In How to Observe Morals and Manners she set up criteria for analyzing a society. Published after her books on the United States, Society in America and Retrospect of Western Travel, it reflects the method of comparative study of societies used in those books. She set down what she believed to be an appropriate set of principles, laws of right and wrong, if you will, and then gauged the society by how well she thought it met the principles. As the title suggests, these principles had to do with "morals," deep values held and acted upon, and "manners," assumptions and practices of courtesy, kindness, politeness, or the absence thereof, the surface manifestations of moral depth.

This work was indeed an early sociological work on method, as Alice Rossi has claimed. Martineau goes halfway toward what early anthropologists and sociologists several decades later hoped to achieve. That is, her methodological approach involved the attempt to evolve some detached criteria for objectivity. That far, she succeeds in being a primitive scientist. But the other half of her approach provides her limitation. She inserts her own values, quite assuredly and dogmatically, as the appropriate criteria. This was, however, four years before Comte's Positive Philosophy was published and at least thirteen years before she read it. She was herself to criticize this phase of her thinking as "metaphysical" at a later time.

Her feminism and her social science may be in conflict in this article. To raise such questions about women and marriage was important on women's behalf however she did it, but to do it dogmatically is not good enough. Calling monogamy of the English variety "the natural method" for all coupling is application of an unexamined value system. Calling for removal of inferior treatment of women is suggesting a new one.

The second selection, "Criticism on Women," published in 1839, is ostensibly a review essay of three items, but is in fact an essay on the abuse of women and the right of women to be respected and honored or to be criticized according to standards of honesty and fairness to all people. One of the persons she defends so splendidly in this piece is the young Queen Victoria, just come to the throne in 1837. Another (this review is anonymous) is herself, attacked ad hominem for her deafness and her womanhood after daring to write on population

She had received vicious treatment in the reviews of "Weal and Woe in Garveloch." Writing under the editorship of John Gibson Lockhart in the Quarterly Review, John Wilson Croker was the first to damn her. He wrote, "and most of all it is quite impossible not to be shocked, nay, disgusted, with many of the unfeminine and mischievous doctrines on the principles of social welfare. . . . A woman who thinks child-bearing a crime against society! An unmarried woman who declaims against marriage! ! A young woman who deprecates charity and provision for the poor!!!" [2]

The attack was patently unfair, not only for its rejection of the mild story favoring birth control, but also for its sexist rebuke of Martineau personally as a woman who would dare to write on such a subject. In "Criticism on Women," she coins the word "Crokerism" to identify this particular kind of reputation smearing.

The very year (1832) of Croker's article, in fact, she was still allowing for the possibility that she might marry and, hence, bear children herself. Writing to her mother in anticipation of her mother's coming to live with her in London, she laid out, along with her claim to professional independence as a woman, her right to marry: "There is another chance, dear mother, and that is, of my marrying. I have no thoughts of it. I see a thousand reasons against it. But I could not positively answer for always continuing in the same mind. . . . I mean no more than I say, I assure you; but, strong as my convictions are against marrying, I will not positively promise." [3]

The third piece is a marvelous letter written, no doubt, to Maria Weston Chapman and read at an American women's rights convention at Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1851.[4] In the letter, Martineau repeats her themes of the necessity of equal treatment of all humans, of the importance of education to enable women to flourish, of the need for the object of education to be occupation, and of the silliness of the old controversy of influence versus office. However, it is significant here that she couched her persuasive arguments in terms of the need to do a scientific experiment. Although her writing had always been analytical, this letter was written in the year she was first reading Comte's Positive Philosophy, and it is clear that she has a new faith that social experiment will yield proof of women's ability. This letter from 1851 is an early example of her work after she had found clarity in science and provides a good exhibit of her utter confidence in the outcome of an experiment not yet conducted. Only to those of us with post-Darwinian, post-Freudian, post-Einsteinian mentalities is such assurance unwarranted. It was entirely earnest and even revolutionary in Martineau.

If the personal is the political is the intellectual, we may have the key to Martineau's vast outpouring of work about women. One element in the shaping of her young life was the insanity and apparent suicide of the one man to whom she ever seemed to have had a romantic attachment, her fiance John Worthington, a college friend of her brother James. I do not think it is the whole story. I do not think it is even a great part of the story. Yet, I take at her word the account she gives in the fourth selection of her singleness being the great benefit to her work, in effect her work being her love. In so doing, I differ with her recent biographers who have speculated about her lesbianism or absence of it, her sexuality, latent or active. R. K. Webb concludes that she was a "latent lesbian." Pichanick disagrees with him, arguing that although Martineau had important "affectionate female friendships," there is no evidence for her being a lesbian. [5] I believe she was probably behaviorally asexual and emotionally sexually naive, and I think she means what she says in her Autobiography: that Worthington's death liberated her to be alone and like it.

The fifth selection, on Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and the woman question, occurs in the context of a description of William Godwin as one of her morning visitors in London in the early days of her fame in 1833. [6] She delighted in Godwin and greatly enjoyed his company, and, seeing no conflict of ideology loyalties, Martineau expressly denied that her interest in him arose because of his connection with Mary Wollstonecraft. Instead, she said, the opposite was true. She had no use for Wollstonecraft, while honoring Godwin. She claimed Wollstonecraft did the cause of woman a disservice, proclaiming Wollstonecraft "a poor victim of passion, with no control over her own peace, and no calmness or content except when the needs of her individual nature were satisfied."

All that, while extolling the pleasure of visiting with the man who loved Wollstonecraft--presumably with a passion of his own--and who had done everything he could to keep her memory alive! The passion she means, of course, is not merely sexual extravagance but the exaggerated romantic flamboyance of a personality like Wollstonecraft's.

Following that judgment of Wollstonecraft, however, her comments on the woman question sound uncharacteristically self-righteous. Her tone is hostile toward some women, but her message is still consistently that of the rational moralist. She writes calmly of her expectation that women will achieve the right to vote.


1. See note 13, Introduction.

2. Quoted in Vera Wheatley, The Life and Work of Harriet Martineau (London: Secker and Warburg, 1957), pp. 101-102.

3. Quoted in ibid., p. 94.

4. I have to thank Joan H. Winterkorn of the Department of Rare Books, Cornell University Libraries, both for providing me with a copy of an undated clipping of the article from the Cornell University Library Anti-Slavery Collection, and for tracing its source of publication to the Liberator. Webb in his Harriet Martineau (p. 182n) credits its publication to the National Anti-Slavery Standard, but Winterkorn speculates that he did so on finding it among other clippings of Martineau's writings from the National Anti-Slavery Standard in the Cornell University Libraries.

5. See Webb, Harriet Martineau, pp. 50-51; and Pichanick, Harriet Martineau, pp. 109- 1l0.

6. Godwin, a radical philosopher, was briefly the beloved husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, the first English feminist work. The two were a devoted couple but maintained separate households. Wollstonecraft died from complications following the birth of their daughter, Mary Shelley.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 53-58.

On Marriage

Harriet Martineau, How to Observe Morals and Manners (London: Charles Knight, 1838), pp. 167- 182. Probably drafted in 1834.


The Marriage compact is the most important feature of the domestic state on which the observer can fix his attention. If he be a thinker, he will not be surprised at finding much imperfection in the marriage state wherever he goes. By no arrangements yet attempted have purity of morals, constancy of affection, and domestic peace been secured to any extensive degree in society. Almost every variety of method is still in use, in one part of the world or another. The primitive custom of brothers marrying sisters still subsists in some Eastern regions. Polygamy is very common there, as every one knows. In countries which are too far advanced for this, every restraint of law, all sanction of opinion, has been tried to render that natural method,--the restriction of one husband to one wife,--successful, and therefore universal and permanent. Law and opinion have, however, never availed to anything like complete success. Even in thriving young countries, where no considerations of want, and few of ambition, can interfere with domestic peace,--where the numbers are equal, where love has the promise of a free and even course, and where religious sentiment is directed full upon the sanctity of the marriage state,--it is found to be far from pure. In almost all countries, the corruption of society in this department is so deep and wide-spreading, as to vitiate both moral sentiment and practice in an almost hopeless degree. It neutralizes almost all attempts to ameliorate and elevate the condition of the race.--There must be something fearfully wrong where the general result is so unfortunate as this. As in most other cases of social suffering, the wrong will be found to lie less in the methods ordained and put in practice, than in the prevalent sentiment of society, out of which all methods arise.

It is necessary to make mention (however briefly) of the kinds of false sentiment from which the evil of conjugal unhappiness appears to spring.--The sentiment by which courage is made the chief ground of honour in men, and chastity in women, coupled with the inferiority in which women have ever been sunk, was sure to induce profligacy. As long as men were brave nothing more was required to make them honourable in the eyes of society: while the inferior condition of women has ever exposed those of them who were not protected by birth and wealth to the profligacy of men. . . .

Marriage exists everywhere, to be studied by the moral observer. He must watch the character of courtships wherever he goes;--whether the young lady is negociated for and promised by her guardians, without having seen her intended; like the poor girl who, when she asked her mother to point out her future husband from among a number of gentlemen, was silenced with the rebuke, "What is that to you?"--or whether they are left free to exchange their faith "by flowing stream, through wood, or craggy wild," as in the United States;--or whether there is a medium between these two extremes, as in England. He must observe how fate is defied by lovers in various countries. . . . Scotch lovers agree to come together after so many years spent in providing the "plenishing." Irish lovers conclude the business, in case of difficulty, by appearing before the priest the next morning. There is recourse to a balcony and rope-ladder in one country; a steam-boat and back-settlement in another; trust and patience in a third; and intermediate flirtations, to pass the time, in a fourth. He must note the degree of worldly ambition which attends marriages, and which may therefore be supposed to stimulate them, how much space the house with two rooms in humble life, and the country-seat and carriages in higher life, occupy in the mind of bride or bridegroom.--He must observe whether conjugal infidelity excites horror and rage, or whether it is so much a matter of course as that no jealousy interferes to mar the arrangements of mutual convenience.--He must mark whether women are made absolutely the property of their husbands, in mind and in estate; or whether the wife is treated more or less professedly as an equal party in the agreement.--He must observe whether there is an excluded class, victims to their own superstition or to a false social obligation, wandering about to disturb by their jealousy or licentiousness those whose lot is happier.--He must observe whether there are domestic arrangements for home enjoyments, or whether all is planned on the supposition of pleasure lying abroad; whether the reliance is on books, gardens, and play with children, or on the opera, parties, the ale-house, or dances on the green.--He must mark whether the ladies are occupied with their household cares in the morning, and the society of their husbands in the evening, or with embroidery and looking out of balconies; with receiving company all day, or gadding abroad; with the library or the nursery; with lovers or with children .--In each country, called civilized, he will meet with almost all these varieties: but in each there is such a prevailing character in the aspect of domestic life, that intelligent observation will enable him to decide, without much danger of mistake, as to whether marriage is merely an arrangement of convenience, in accordance with low morals, or a sacred institution, commanding the reverence and affection of a virtuous people. No high degree of this sanctity can be looked for till that moderation is attained which, during the prevalence of asceticism and its opposite, is reached only by a few. That it yet exists nowhere as the characteristic of any society,--that all the blessings of domestic life are not yet open to all, so as to preclude the danger of any one encroaching on his neighbour,--is but too evident to the travelled observer. He can only mark the degree of approximation to this state of high morals wherever he goes.

The traveller everywhere finds woman treated as the inferior party in a compact in which both parties have an equal interest. Any agreement thus formed is imperfect, and is liable to disturbance; and the danger is great in proportion to the degradation of the supposed weaker party. The degree of the degradation of woman is as good a test as the moralist can adopt for ascertaining the state of domestic morals in any country.

The Indian squaw carries the household burdens, trudging in the dust, while her husband on horseback paces before her, unencumbered but by his own gay trappings. She carries the wallet with food, the matting for the lodge, the merchandize (if they possess any), and her infant. There is no exemption from labour for the squaw of the most vaunted chief. In other countries the wife may be found drawing the plough, hewing wood and carrying water; the men of the family standing idle to witness her toils. Here the observer may feel pretty sure of his case. From a condition of slavery like this, women are found rising to the highest condition in which they are at present seen, in France, England, and the United States,--where they are less than half-educated, precluded from earning a subsistence, except in a very few ill-paid employments, and prohibited from giving or withholding their assent to laws which they are yet bound by penalties to obey. In France owing to the great destruction of men in the wars of Napoleon, women are engaged, and successfully engaged, in a variety of occupations which have been elsewhere supposed unsuitable to the sex. Yet there remains so large a number who cannot, by the most strenuous labour in feminine employments, command the necessaries of life, while its luxuries may be earned by infamy, that the morals of the society are naturally bad. Great attention has of late been given to this subject in France: the social condition of women is matter of thought and discussion to a degree which promises some considerable amelioration. Already, women can do more in France than anywhere else; they can attempt more without ridicule or arbitrary hinderance: and the women of France are probably destined to lead the way in the advance which the sex must hereafter make. At present, society is undergoing a transition from a feudal state to one of mutual government; and women, gaining in some ways, suffer in others during the process. They have, happily for themselves, lost much of the peculiar kind of observance which was the most remarkable feature of the chivalrous age; and it has been impossible to prevent their sharing in the benefits of the improvement and diffusion of knowledge. All cultivation of their powers has secured to them the use of new power; so that their condition is far superior to what it was in any former age. But new difficulties about securing a maintenance have arisen. Marriage is less general; and the husbands of the greater number of women are not secure of a maintenance from the lords of the soil, any more than women are from being married. The charge of their own maintenance is thrown upon large numbers of women, without the requisite variety of employments having been opened to them, or the needful education imparted. A natural consequence of this is, that women are educated to consider marriage the one object in life, and therefore to be extremely impatient to secure it. The unfavourable influence of these results upon the happiness of domestic life may be seen at a glance.

This may be considered the sum and substance of female education in England; and the case is scarcely better in France, though the independence and practical efficiency of women there are greater than in any other country. The women in the United States are in a lower condition than either, though there is less striving after marriage, from its greater frequency, and little restriction is imposed upon the book-learning which women may obtain. But the old feudal notions about the sex flourish there, while they are going out in the more advanced countries of Europe; and these notions, in reality, regulate the condition of women. American women generally are treated in no degree as equals, but with a kind of superstitious outward observance, which, as they have done nothing to earn it, is false and hurtful. Coexisting with this, there is an extreme difficulty in a woman's obtaining a maintenance, except by the exercise of some rare powers. In a country where women are brought up to be indulged wives, there is no hope, help, or prospect for such as have not money and are not married.

In America, women can earn a maintenance only by teaching, sewing, employment in factories, keeping boarding-houses, and domestic service. Some governesses are tolerably well paid,--comparing their earnings with those of men. Employment in factories, and domestic service, are well paid. Sewing is so wretched an occupation everywhere, that it is to be hoped that machinery will soon supersede the use of human fingers in a labour so unprofitable. In Boston, Massachusetts, a woman is paid ninepence (sixpence English) for making a shirt.--In England, besides these occupations, others are opening; and, what is of yet greater consequence, the public mind is awakening to the necessity of enlarging the sphere of female industry. Some of the inferior branches of the fine arts have lately offered profitable employment to many women. The commercial adversity to which the country has been exposed from time to time, has been of service to the sex, by throwing hundreds and thousands of them upon their own resources, and thus impelling them to urge claims and show powers which are more respected every day.--In France this is yet more conspicuously the case. There, women are shopkeepers, merchants, professional accountants, editors of newspapers, and employed in many other ways, unexampled elsewhere, but natural and respectable enough on the spot.

Domestic morals are affected in two principal respects by these differences. Where feminine occupations of a profitable nature are few, and therefore overstocked, and therefore yielding a scanty maintenance with difficulty, there is the strongest temptation to prefer luxury with infamy to hardship with unrecognized honour. Hence arises much of the corruption of cities,--less in the United States than in Europe, from the prevalence of marriage,--but awful in extent everywhere. Where vice is made to appear the interest of large classes of women, the observer may be quite sure that domestic morals will be found impure. If he can meet with any society where the objects of life are as various and as freely open to women as to men, there he may be sure of finding the greatest amount of domestic purity and peace; for, if women were not helpless, men would find it far less easy to be vicious.

The other way in which domestic morals are affected by the scope which is allowed to the powers of women, is through the views of marriage which are induced. Marriage is debased by being considered the one worldly object in life,--that on which maintenance, consequence, and power depend. Where the husband marries for connexion, fortune, or an heir to his estate, and the wife for an establishment, for consequence, or influence, there is no foundation for high domestic morals and lasting peace; and in a country where marriage is made the single aim of all women, there is no security against the influence of some of these motives even in the simplest and purest cases of attachment. The sordidness is infused from the earliest years; the taint is in the mind before the attachment begins, before the objects meet; and the evil effects upon the marriage state are incalculable.

All this--the sentiment of society with regard to Woman and to Marriage, the social condition of Woman, and the consequent tendency and aim of her education,--the traveller must carefully observe. Each civilized society claims for itself the superiority in its treatment of woman. In one, she is indulged with religious shows, and with masquerades, or Punch, as an occasional variety. In another, she is left in honourable and undisputed possession of the housekeeping department. In a third, she is allowed to meddle, behind the scenes, with the business which is confided to her husband's management. In a fourth, she is satisfied in being the cherished domestic companion, unaware of the injury of being doomed to the narrowness of mind which is the portion of those who are always confined to the domestic circle. In a fifth, she is flattered at being guarded and indulged as a being requiring incessant fostering, and too feeble to take care of herself. In a sixth society, there may be found expanding means of independent occupation, of responsible employment for women; and here, other circumstances being equal, is the best promise of domestic fidelity and enjoyment.

It is a matter of course that women who are furnished with but one object,--marriage,--must be as unfit for anything when their aim is accomplished as if they had never had any object at all. They are no more equal to the task of education than to that of governing the state; and, if any unexpected turn of adversity befals them, they have no resource but a convent, or some other charitable provision. Where, on the other hand, women are brought up capable of maintaining an independent existence, other objects remain where the grand one is accomplished. Their independence of mind places them beyond the reach of the spoiler; and their cultivated faculty of reason renders them worthy guardians of the rational beings whose weal or woe is lodged in their hands. There is yet, as may be seen by a mere glance over society, only a very imperfect provision made anywhere for doing justice to the next generation by qualifying their mothers; but the observer of morals may profit by marking the degrees in which this imperfection approaches to barbarism. Where he finds that girls are committed to convents for education, and have no alternative in life but marriage, in which their will has no share, and a return to their convent, he may safely conclude that there a plurality of lovers is a matter of course, and domestic enjoyments of the highest kind undesired and unknown. He may conclude that as are the parents, so will be the children; and that, for one more generation at least, there will be little or no improvement. But where he finds a variety of occupations open to women; where he perceives them not only pursuing the lighter mechanic arts, dispensing charity and organizing schools for the poor, but occupied in education, and in the study of science and the practice of the fine arts, he may conclude that here resides the highest domestic enjoyment which has yet been attained, and the strongest hope of a further advance. . . .

From observation on these classes of facts,--the Occupation of the people, the respective Characters of the occupied classes, the Health of the population, the state of Marriage and of Women, and the character of Childhood,--the moralist may learn more of the private life of a community than from the conversation of any number of the individuals who compose it.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 58 - 65.

On Women's Education

A central doctrine of Martineau's feminist thought from the very start of her writing career was the importance of education for women. Excerpts from her second Monthly Repository article, "On Female Education," written in 1822, open this section. In that piece, written when she was barely twenty years old, Martineau made the claim, amazing for her youth and period, that women's intellectual inferiority to men is based on women's lack of mental training, others' expectations of women, and women's circumstances rather than women's ability. She cleverly sidestepped the issue of whether women can be men's equals, saying instead she was looking "to show the expediency of giving proper scope and employment to the powers which they [women] do possess."

Similarly, she avoided the nature versus nurture argument of whether educational potential is dependent on "the structure of the body" or "bodily frame." Although in this youthful argument, published in the organ of Unitarian Christianity to which she was then faithful, she allowed that women should be educated to enhance their relationships to men and make them better mothers and held that the greatest value of education is to give women a better understanding of Christianity, she nevertheless had a very clear-sighted perception of the dreariness and degradation, the retrogression that lack of education means in women's lives.

In later life, Martineau was to abandon and even to repudiate the religion that this early essay relied upon, but she was always to believe in the great importance of education for women.

Forty years later she was of a different mind on the purpose but not on the benefit of women's education. Writing in Once a Week in 1861, she deplored the justification of "good intellectual training as fitting women to be 'mothers of heroes,' 'companions to men,' and so on. . . . Till it is proposed, in educating girls, to make them, in themselves and for their own sakes, as good specimens of the human being as the conditions of the case allow, very little will be effected by any expenditure of pains, time, and money."

Included here are pieces on basic education for women, including a section from her 1848 book, Household Education, which was a kind of popular manual for the moral and practical instruction of a household, and a long article from Cornhill Magazine (1864) entitled "Middle-Class Education in England: Girls." In both of these she held that education should be for the sake of improving the person. She insisted that girls should study the same subjects as boys, that both should have time in school for both study and play, mental exercise and physical exercise, but that girls should study the domestic arts as well.

Never did she question that women should become skillful at housekeeping; rather she claimed that education would make them better at it. This is drawn from her own life, for she prided herself on her needlework, her household management, and the sensible way in which she entertained. She argues in several contexts that not all Englishwomen are cared for by a man and that women need to be educated for an occupation so that they can earn their own way. These ideas came out of Martineau's own middle-class experience of having been left with a small legacy poorly invested. It did not occur to her to argue for universal education. She did, however, favor higher education for qualified women early on and enthusiastically supported the establishment in London of Queen's College in Hartley Street and the Ladies' College in Bedford Square (now Bedford College). An article on higher education, "What Women are Educated For," forms the third selection in this section.


Norwich, November, 1822

In discussing the subject of Female Education, it is not so much my object to inquire whether the natural powers of women be equal to those of men, as to shew the expediency of giving proper scope and employment to the powers which they do possess. It may be as well, notwithstanding, to inquire whether the difference be as great as is generally supposed between the mental structure of men and of women.

Doubtless the formation of the mind must depend in a great degree on the structure of the body. From this cause the strength of mind observable in men is supposed to arise; and the delicacy of the female mind is thought to be in agreement with the bodily frame. But it is impossible to ascertain how much may depend on early education; nor can we solve our doubts on this head by turning our view to savage countries, where, if the bodily strength be nearly equal in the two sexes, their minds are alike sunk in ignorance and darkness. In our own country, we find that as long as the studies of children of both sexes continue the same, the progress they make is equal. After the rudiments of knowledge have been obtained, in the cultivated ranks of society, (of which alone I mean to speak,) the boy goes on continually increasing his stock of information, it being his only employment to store and exercise his mind for future years; while the girl is probably confined to low pursuits, her aspirings after knowledge are subdued, she is taught to believe that solid information is unbecoming her sex, almost her whole time is expended on light accomplishments, and thus before she is sensible of her powers, they are checked in their growth; chained down to mean objects, to rise no more; and when the natural consequences of this mode of treatment arise, all mankind agree that the abilities of women are far inferior to those of men. But in the few instances where a contrary mode of treatment has been pursued, where fair play has been given to the faculties, even without much assistance, what has almost invariably been the result? Has it not been evident that the female mind, though in many respects differently constituted from that of man, may be well brought into comparison with his? If she wants his enterprising spirit, the deficiency is made up by perseverance in what she does undertake; for his ambition, she has a thirst for knowledge; and for his ready perception, she has unwearied application.

It is proof sufficient to my mind, that there is no natural deficiency of power, that, unless proper objects are supplied to women to employ their faculties, their energies are exerted improperly. Some aim they must have, and if no good one is presented to them, they must seek for a bad one.

We may find evidence in abundance of this truth in the condition of women before the introduction of Christianity.

Before the revelation of this blessed religion, (doubly blessed to the female sex,) what was their situation? They were either sunk almost to the level of the brutes in mental darkness, buried in their own homes, the slaves instead of the companions of their husbands, only to be preserved from vice by being excluded from the world, or, not being able to endure these restraints, employing their restless powers and turbulent passions in the pursuit of vicious pleasures and sensual gratifications. And we cannot wonder that this was the case, when they were gifted with faculties which they were not permitted to exercise, and were compelled to vegetate from year to year, with no object in life and no hope in death. Observe what an immediate change was wrought by the introduction of Christianity. Mark the zeal, directed by knowledge, of the female converts, of so many of whom St. Paul makes honourable mention as his friends, on account of their exertions in the great cause. An object was held out for them to obtain, and their powers were bent to the attainment of it, instead of being engaged in vice and folly. The female character has been observed to improve since that time, in proportion as the treasures of useful knowledge have been placed within the reach of the sex.

I wish to imply by what I have said, not that great stores of information are as necessary to women as to men, but that as much care should be taken of the formation of their minds. Their attainments cannot in general be so great, because they have their own appropriate duties and peculiar employments, the neglect of which nothing can excuse; but I contend that these duties will be better performed if the powers be rationally employed. If the whole mind be exercised and strengthened, it will bring more vigour to the performance of its duties in any particular province.

The first great objection which is made to enlightening the female mind is, that if engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, women neglect their appropriate duties and peculiar employments .

2nd. That the greatest advances that the female mind can make in knowledge, must still fall far short of the attainments of the other sex.

3rd. That the vanity so universally ascribed to the sex is apt to be inflated by any degree of proficiency in knowledge, and that women therefore become forgetful of the subordinate station assigned them by law, natural and divine.

To the first objection I answer, that such a pursuit of knowledge as shall lead women to neglect their peculiar duties, is not that cultivation of mind for the utility of which I am contending. But these duties may be well performed without engaging the whole time and attention. If "great thoughts constitute great minds," what can be expected from a woman whose whole intellect is employed on the trifling cares and comparatively mean occupations, to which the advocates for female ignorance would condemn her? These cares and these occupations were allotted to women to enable them to smooth our way through life; they were designed as a means to this end, and should never be pursued as the end itself. The knowledge of these necessary acts is so easily acquired, and they are so easily performed, that an active mind will feel a dismal vacuity, a craving after something nobler and better to employ the thoughts in the intervals of idleness which must occur when these calls of duty are answered, and if nothing nobler and better is presented to it, it will waste its energies in the pursuit of folly, if not of vice, and thus continually perpetuate the faults of the sex. . . .

It must be allowed by all, that one of woman's first duties is to qualify herself for being a companion to her husband, or to those with whom her lot in life is cast. She was formed to be a domestic companion, and such an one as shall give to home its charms, as shall furnish such entertainment that her husband need not be driven abroad for amusement. This is one of the first duties required from a woman, and no time can be misemployed which is applied to the purpose of making her such a companion, and I contend that a friend like this cannot be found among women of uncultivated minds. If their thoughts are continually occupied by the vanities of the world, if that time which is not required for the fulfilment of household duties, is spent in folly, or even in harmless trifles in which the husband has no interest, how are the powers of pleasing to be perpetuated, how is she to find interesting subjects for social converse?...

If we consider woman as the guardian and instructress of infancy, her claims to cultivation of mind become doubly urgent. It is evident that if the soul of the teacher is narrow and contracted, that of the pupil cannot be enlarged. . . .

With respect to the second objection, viz., That the greatest advances which the female mind can make in knowledge must fall far short of the attainments of the other sex,--I allow that the acquirements of women can seldom equal those of men, and it is not desirable that they should. I do not wish to excite a spirit of rivalry between the sexes; I do not desire that many females should seek for fame as authors. I only wish that their powers should be so employed that they should not be obliged to seek amusements beneath them, and injurious to them. I wish them to be companions to men, instead of playthings or servants, one of which an ignorant woman must commonly be. If they are called to be wives, a sensible mind is an essential qualification for the domestic character; if they remain single, liberal pursuits are absolutely necessary to preserve them from the faults so generally attributed to that state, and so justly and inevitably, while the mind is buried in darkness.

If it be asked what kind and degree of knowledge is necessary to preserve women from the evils mentioned as following in the train of ignorance, I answer that much must depend on natural talent, fortune and station; but no Englishwoman, above the lower ranks of life, ought to be ignorant of the Evidences and Principles of her religious belief, of Sacred History, of the outline at least of General History, of the Elements of the Philosophy of Nature, and of the Human Mind; and to these should be added the knowledge of such living languages, and the acquirement of such accomplishments, as situation and circumstances may direct.

With respect to the third objection, viz., that the vanity so universally ascribed to the sex is apt to be inflated by any degree of proficiency in knowledge, and that women, therefore, become forgetful of the subordinate station assigned them by law, natural and divine: the most important part of education, the implanting of religious principles must be in part neglected, if the share of knowledge which women may appropriate, should be suffered to inflate their vanity, or excite feelings of pride. Christian humility should be one of the first requisites in female education, and till it is attained every acquirement of every kind will become a cause of self-exaltation, and those accomplishments which are the most rare, will of course be looked upon with the most self-complacency. But if the taste for knowledge were more generally infused, and if proficiency in the attainments I have mentioned were more common, there would be much less pedantry than there is at present; for when acquirements of this kind are no longer remarkable, they cease to afford a subject for pride....

Let woman then be taught that her powers of mind were given her to be improved. Let her be taught that she is to be a rational companion to those of the other sex among whom her lot in life is cast, that her proper sphere is home---that there she is to provide, not only for the bodily comfort of the man, but that she is to enter also into community of mind with him; . . . As she finds nobler objects presented to her grasp, and that her rank in the scale of being is elevated, she will engraft the vigorous qualities of the mind of man on her own blooming virtues, and insinuate into his mind those softer graces and milder beauties, which will smooth the ruggedness of his character....


From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 87-93.

Household Education

Harriet Martineau, Household Education (London: E. Moxon, 1848), pp. 240-245.

I mention girls, as well as boys, confident that every person able to see the right, and courageous enough to utter it, will sanction what I say. I must declare that on no subject is more nonsense talked, (as it seems to me) than on that of female education, when restriction is advocated. In works otherwise really good, we find it taken for granted that girls are not to learn the dead languages and mathematics, because they are not to exercise professions where these attainments are wanted; and a little further on we find it said that the chief reason for boys and young men studying these things is to improve the quality of their minds. I suppose none of us will doubt that everything possible should be done to improve the quality of the mind of every human being.--If it is said that the female brain is incapable of studies of an abstract nature,--that is not true: for there are many instances of women who have been good mathematicians, and good classical scholars. The plea is indeed nonsense on the face of it; for the brain which will learn French will learn Greek; the brain which enjoys arithmetic is capable of mathematics.--If it is said that women are light-minded and superficial, the obvious answer is that their minds should be the more carefully sobered by grave studies, and the acquisition of exact knowledge.--If it is said that their vocation in life does not require these kinds of knowledge,--that is giving up the main plea for the pursuit of them by boys;--that it improves the quality of their minds.--If it is said that such studies unfit women for their proper occupations,--that again is untrue. Men do not attend the less to their professional business, their counting-house or their shop, for having their minds enlarged and enriched, and their faculties strengthened by sound and various knowledge; nor do women on that account neglect the work-basket, the market, the dairy and the kitchen. If it be true that women are made for these domestic occupations, then of course they will be fond of them. They will be so fond of what comes most naturally to them that no book-study (if really not congenial to their minds) will draw them off from their homely duties. For my part, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the most ignorant women I have known have been the worst housekeepers; and that the most learned women I have known have been among the best,--wherever they have been early taught and trained to household business, as every woman ought to be. A woman of superior mind knows better than an ignorant one what to require of her servants, how to deal with tradespeople, and how to economise time: she is more clear-sighted about the best ways of doing things; has a richer mind with which to animate all about her, and to solace her own spirit in the midst of her labours. If nobody doubts the difference in pleasantness of having to do with a silly and narrow-minded woman and with one who is intelligent and enlightened, it must be clear that the more intelligence and enlightenment there is, the better. One of the best housekeepers I know,--a simple-minded, affectionate-hearted woman, whose table is always fit for a prince to sit down to, whose house is always neat and elegant, and whose small income yields the greatest amount of comfort, is one of the most learned women ever heard of. When she was a little girl, she was sitting sewing in the window-seat while her brother was receiving his first lesson in mathematics from his tutor. She listened, and was delighted with what she heard; and when both left the room, she seized upon the Euclid that lay on the table, ran up to her room, went over the lesson, and laid the volume where it was before. Every day after this, she sat stitching away and listening, in like manner, and going over the lesson afterwards, till one day she let out the secret. Her brother could not answer a question which was put to him two or three times; and, without thinking of anything else, she popped out the answer. The tutor was surprised, and after she had told the simple truth, she was permitted to make what she could of Euclid. Some time after, she spoke confidentially to a friend of the family,--a scientific professor,--asking him, with much hesitation and many blushes, whether he thought it was wrong for a woman to learn Latin. "Certainly not," he said; "provided she does not neglect any duty for it.--But why do you want to learn Latin ?" She wanted to study Newton's Principia: and the professor thought this a very good reason. Before she was grown into a woman, she had mastered the Principia of Newton. And now, the great globe on which we live is to her a book in which she reads the choice secrets of nature; and to her the last known wonders of the sky are disclosed: and if there is a home more graced with accomplishments, and more filled with comforts, I do not know such an one. Will anybody say that this woman would have been in any way better without her learning?--while we may confidently say that she would have been much less happy.

As for women not wanting learning, or superior intellectual training, that is more than any one should undertake to say in our day. In former times, it was understood that every woman, (except domestic servants) was maintained by her father, brother or husband; but it is not so now. The footing of women is changed, and it will change more. Formerly, every woman was destined to be married; and it was almost a matter of course that she would be: so that the only occupation thought of for a woman was keeping her husband's house, and being a wife and mother. It is not so now. From a variety of causes, there is less and less marriage among the middle classes of our country; and much of the marriage that there is does not take place till middle life. A multitude of women have to maintain themselves who would never have dreamed of such a thing a hundred years ago. This is not the place for a discussion whether this is a good thing for women or a bad one; or for a lamentation that the occupations by which women might maintain themselves are so few; and of those few, so many engrossed by men. This is not the place for a speculation as to whether women are to grow into a condition of self-maintenance, and their dependence for support upon father, brother and husband to become only occasional. With these considerations, interesting as they are, we have no business at this moment. What we have to think of is the necessity,--in all justice, in all honour, in all humanity, in all prudence,--that every girl's faculties should be made the most of, as carefully as boys'. While so many women are no longer sheltered, and protected, and supported, in safety from the world (as people used to say ) every woman ought to be fitted to take care of herself. Every woman ought to have that justice done to her faculties that she may possess herself in all the strength and clearness of an exercised and enlightened mind, and may have at command, for her subsistence, as much intellectual power and as many resources as education can furnish her with. Let us hear nothing of her being shut out, because she is a woman, from any study that she is capable of pursuing: and if one kind of cultivation is more carefully attended to than another, let it be the discipline and exercise of the reasoning faculties. From the simplest rules of arithmetic let her go on, as her brother does, as far into the depths of science, and up to the heights of philosophy as her powers and opportunities permit; and it will certainly be found that the more she becomes a reasoning creature, the more reasonable, disciplined and docile she will be: the more she knows of the value of knowledge and of all other things, the more diligent she will be;--the more sensible of duty,--the more interested in occupations,--the more womanly. This is only coming round to the points we started from; that every human being is to be made as perfect as possible: and that this must be done through the most complete development of all the faculties.

From Gayle Graham Yates, (Ed.)., Harriet Martineau on Women. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985, pp. 93-97.

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