Harriet Martineau
Social & Political Philosophy

Kate Lindemann's 

Women Philosophers


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Harriet Martineau could be a 'poster person' for women with multiple disabilities. She suffered from ill heath, a number of documented disabilities and deep childhood unhappiness (perhaps clinical depression). Still she became a major intellectual force of her day. Not only was she a scholarly success but she exerted a strong a social force to improve the status of women and the poor.

At the age of 42 she underwent a major personal change in health and lost her lifelong disabilities....not something that happens to most persons with disabilities. But she is certainly a figure of hope to all who suffer difficult life circumstances.


1802- June 12th. Harriet Martineau was the sixth child born to Elizabeth and Thomas Martineau.

Her family lived in Norwich, England where her father was an owner of a textile mill. Both her parents were Unitarians and believed strongly in the value of education - up to a point. Both the girls and the boys received the same education until they reached college age. Then boys went to University but the girls did not.

From an early age, Harriet suffered from various bodily weaknesses. She had no sense of smell or taste and later became quite deaf.

1818 Having reach 16 years of age but in poor health, She went for a long visit to her paternal Aunt, Mrs. Kentish who lived in Bristol. Mrs. Kentish kept a school and Harriet Martineau felt content in the atmosphere. It was at Bristol that she met Dr. Lant Carpenter, a Unitarian minister, who instructed her and from whom Harriet developed 'spiritual rigidity' and a 'strong conscience'.

1819 She returned to Norwich where she lived for the next 11 years. During this time she became completely deaf.

1821 - Harriet Martineau wrote an anonymous piece, "On Female Education", and it was published in the Monthly Repository, a Unitarian journal. Its success led to her becoming a regular writer for the Monthly Repository.

1823 She published Devotional Exercises and Addresses, Prayers and Hymns.

1826 Her family finances are reduced after her father's death. year. Around this time, a man whom she had been seeing also died. She publishes Addresses for the Use of Families. This work was followed by a series of books about economics and politics for ordinary people.

1830 She is awarded several prizes for essays by the Unitarian Association. She also does needle work for additional income.

1832 Illustrations of Political Economy published by Charles Fox, became a best seller and went through several editions. Harriet Martineau's economic problems were solved!

In this year she moved to London where she developed a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. During her lifetime people such as Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Carlyle, Harriet Taylor, Thomas Malthus, Sydney Smith, John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, Edward George Bulwer-Lynton, Florence Nightingale, were all part of her circle of friends. Writers from abroad, such as Erasmus, praised her work.

1834 She publishes Poor Laws and Paupers Illustrated . Again, this was a controversial work and she was criticized by both Tory and Radicals alike. She then left for a tour of the United States.

In America she became acquainted with the work of the Abolitionists and was offended by the status and situation of women in the United States.

1837 When she returned from the United States she published, Society in America. The work criticized the treatment of women in the United States and was generally critical of the nation as not living up to its professed principles. She again advocated education for women so that they would have some prospect in life besides that of marriage.

1839 Having turned her hand to fiction, Deerbrook,  Harriet Martineau's first novel was published.

1840 Her book, The Hour and the Man which was based on the life of the slave leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture was published.

1841 She publishes a book for stories for children called, The Playfellow,

1844 Harriet Martineau undergoes a course of Mesmerism treatments and is completely cured of her ills. She later publishes a study of her case.

1845 She moves to the Lake District near Ambleside, England.

1846 She published a history of England from 1816 - 1846, The History of the Peace.

1851 She published Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development this is also a a controversial work. It rejected religion. The publication led to a breach in her relationship with her brother, James, who was a Unitarian minister and who had first encouraged her to pursue the life of a professional writer after reading her first anonymous essay..

1852 - 1866 She contributes to the Daily News. These contributions include her Letters from Ireland,that she wrote during her 1853 visit. In 1854 she was among those who helped save the Westminster Review from economic collapse.

1855 She began her autobiography, which was published in 1877, a year after her death

1876 Harriet Martineau dies. Her death notice included her own statement, "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 dear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularize while she could neither discover nor invent."


1833 Poor Laws and Paupers,

1834 The Tendency of Strikes and Sticks to Produce Low Wages and of Union between Masters and Men to Ensure Good Wages ; Illustrations of Taxation

1837 Society in America which can be read at Harriet Martineau: Society in America

         Retrospect of Western Travel.

1839 Deerbrook

1841 The Peasant and the Prince; The Hour and the Man

1844 Life in the Sickroom

1848 Eastern Life, Present and Past; Household Education

1849 - 1850 History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace, 1849–50 - 5 vols. - All 5 volumes are available online. 

1850 How to Make Home Unhealthy, Harpers. Read a copy at Harriet Martineau: How to Make a Home Unhealthy .

1851 Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development,

1882 with P. A. Twone, International Copyright Question. You can read a copy at International copyright Question

1852 Skteches from Life

1853 The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, Freely translated and condensed

1862 "Sister Ana's Probation" One a Week

1869 Biographical Sketches, Merdhin, The manor and the eyrie; and Old landmarks and old laws

1877 Autobiography, posthumous publication. A copy is available at Autobiography

Downloadable copies of many of her works are available at the University of Pennsylvania's Online Books website.

This page was updated November 26, 2014

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