Harriet Martineau

Born 3rd July 1802
Never married
Died from bronchitis 1876
More widely known than James her older brother
More rigid in views than James
Always an outsider
A medium impact fish in a large pool - but ripples on
She is nineteenth century humanist and feminist

harriet martineau

Became campaigner on women's causes in USA and Britain

First piece: Female Writers in Practical Divinity in Unitarian journal, Monthly Repository 1822

1823 Monthly Repository, 'On Female Education' (written anonymously)
Article was first of many on education and over 6,000 articles on the condition of women (in several countries) - articles for example on girls schooling, girls education in the home and higher education for women

Became economically independent from writing

1832 from Ireland (with James) wrote monthly series, 'Illustrations of Political Economy' - economics as a developing subject put into fiction to popularise it. This brought her fame.

She did not endorse Robert Owen and his socialism

Novel Deerbrook

Novel The Hour and the Man based on a black liberator in Haiti

Children's books

Life in the Sick Room

1846 new house: The Knoll at Ambleside was built. It became her base up to death.

The History of England during the Thirty Years Peace 1816-1846

Book: Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development (1851) with sceptic Henry G Atkinson (he the main contributor) and rejected theism. James Martineau called it "Mesmeric Atheism" in the Prospective Review (rather a nasty title given her experience).

1859 'Female Industry' in Edinbrugh Review advocated paid employment for women

1866 signed John Stuart Mill MP's petition for women's suffrage

1869 Last work: Ladies Campaign for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act (women could be examined by police on the suspicion of prostitution). She gave wordy support to campaigners including Josephine Butler.

Compare with brother...

James Martineau

Born 1805, died 1900
Less widely known than his sister Harriet
Broadened his views
Within tolerated dissent
He was a largish fish in a small pool
Century plus later he needs wider rediscovery, unlike Harriet

James Martineau

Ministry at Liverpool

1836 wrote Rationale of Religious Inquiry defending human reason
1839 lectured with others on Unitarianism Defended in Liverpool

Types of Ethical Theory (1885)

The Seat of Authority in Religion (1890)

He maintained a high and dry theism, the essential truth, one that left the bible as its illustrator, as Christ too was God's illustrator.


Yates, Gayle Graham (1986), 'Harriet Martineau and Her Brother James', in Faith and Freedom, Summer 1986, Vol. 39, Pt. 2, No. 116.


See main sources:

Yates, Gayle Graham (ed) (1985), Harriet Martineau on Women, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Webb, R. K. (1960), Harriet Martineau: A Radical Victorian, New York: Columbia University Press.

Pichanick, V. K. (1980), Harriet Martineau: The Woman and Her Work, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

James Martineau