Harriet Martineau: biography of this philosopher

History is full of women feminists who have already taken their first steps in the struggle for women’s rights. This is the case of Harriet Martineau, a British writer who was also a philosopher, social activist and sociologist. Harriet, moreover, actively defended the abolitionist movement, and also fought for the rights of the poor and slaves.

In this article we will see in a few words a biography of Harriet Martineau: his origins and studies, his philosophy, his career and the importance of his work.

    Biography of Harriet Martineau: who was it?

    Harriet Martineau went 19th-century British writer and feminist, philosopher, social activist and sociologist, Who became very interested in political economy. In addition, some experts consider her to be the first sociologist in history.

    It was a woman who he very actively supported the establishment of laws for the poor, as well as the abolitionist movement. This movement sought to defend the repeal of laws or customs considered to be a violation of human rights and ethics.

    As for his ideology, Harriet was very supportive of “laissez-faire” (“to let go”, which means refraining from an address or a mandate), but also defended the right to strike and to organize.

      Birth and youth

      Harriet Martineau was born in England on June 12, 1802 (more precisely in Norwick). Daughter of French Huguenots (a type of Protestant), her father was a well-placed businessman, so she he received a very good education.

      This education was far superior to that received by most women of the time. In addition to studying subjects such as physics, mathematics, history and astronomy, he learned several languages.

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      Later Harriet he decided to study philosophy and social sciences. When his father died in 1825, he had to start working in embroidery, but combined it with editorial work in newspapers, thanks to which he gained a certain prestige. For example, he collaborated for several years at the Daily News, Where he wrote over 1,000 articles.

      In 1832, at the age of 30, he compiled a collection of 25 novels, Entitled Illustrations of Political Economy, where he presents his ideas and explanations on the consumption of wealth, its production and distribution, as well as the implications it has on the poor.

      Outraged, was very interested in the work of Jane Marcet (English writer and science broadcaster), which interested her in political economy. This theme was very recurrent in his work.

      His work in sociology

      As we have already seen, between 1819 and 1830 Harriet Martineau began to contribute to the field of sociology, publishing in local newspapers. A remarkable fact is that in 1821 openly publishes in the monthly repository his rejection of the unequal treatment received by women.

      In this way, her feminist ideas sought to exalt the rights and capacities of women, and then began to emerge, through her articles, works and publications.

      Her involvement in feminism

      We can say that Harriet Martineau was a feminist fighter, a great defender of women’s rights. His advice or ideas included equitable education for girls and boys, Alleging that his intellectual capacities were equal.

      In fact, and to give an example, in one of her articles, entitled The Education of Women, she explained that the “alleged” differences between women and men were due exclusively to educational discrimination against them. . The writing of this article was inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, also an English philosopher and writer.

      Another example of his feminist ideas can be found in his defense of the woman’s decision not to marry in case she wanted to. An idea he also practiced, because he never married.


      Harriet Martineau made important journeys that influenced her work and her ideology, while offering her extensive experience in the field of social activism.

      In 1834, Harriet went to the United States to support the abolitionist movement, as we saw at the beginning of the article. He stayed here for two years, and this experience prompted him to write the book Society in America, which consisted of a analysis of social strategies around the female figure, slavery and morality.

      Another of his important journeys was, years later (in 1846), through the Near East, Egypt and the Holy Land. Following his experiences there, he wrote in 1848 a new book entitled Oriental Life. Present and past, where he speculated on the treasures hidden under the sand of the places he visited.

      to work

      Some of Harriet Martineau’s most important works they were:

      • Illustrations of political economy, 1832-1834

      • Lois and the Poor Poor, 1833

      • Taxation Illustrations, 1834.

      • Society in America, 1837.

      • Letters on the Laws of Nature and the Development of Man, 1851

      • The Count’s Philosophy, freely translated and condensed, 1853

      • Autobiography, 1837.


      At the age of 53, in 1855, Harriet fell seriously ill, And set out to write his Autobiography, which would be published a year after his death (in 1877). In her last days, Harriet continued to write for the Daily News, until her death at the age of 74 on June 27, 1876 in Ambleside, England.

      It is said that it was Harriet herself who wrote her obituary, published in the Daily News itself, on the day of her death.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Freedgood, E. (1995). Banish panic: Harriet Martineau and the popularization of political economy. – Victorian Studies, Indiana University Press, 39 (1): 33-53.

      • Martineau, H. (2005). How to observe: morals and manners. Editorial Kessinger.

      • O’Brien, DO (1989). Classical economists. Madrid: Alliance University.

      • Salazar, M. (2018). Harriet Martineau: A revolutionary of her time. What is the economy.

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