Martineau, Harriet, 1802-1876

Alternative names
Birth 1802-06-12
Death 1876-06-27

Biographical notes:

Harriet Martineau, English novelist, economist, and social reformer.

From the guide to the Harriet Martineau manuscript material : 11 items, ca. 1834-1861, (The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.)

English author and traveler.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to Judge Joseph Story, [1836] May 5. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270871427

Harriet Martineau, journalist and author, best known for Society in America (1837).

From the description of Letter : to unidentified recipient, 1872 Feb 18. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702179349

Author and economist.

From the description of Papers of Harriet Martineau, 1835. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79454370

English author, political journalist, and feminist, Harriet Martineau visited the United States (1834-1839) and became associated with the anti-slavery cause.

From the description of Letter, 1837. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 232007226

Harriet Martineau was an English author, activist, and public figure. She wrote on topics including education, the antislavery movement, women's rights, political economy, religion, farming, and foreign policy, as well as novels, travel books, and children's stories.

From the description of Harriet Martineau diary excerpt, 1836. (Iowa Sate Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 70295455

English writer and journalist. A lifelong abolitionist, she served as English correspondent for the American Anti-Slavery Standard. She also wrote about the United States, having traveled there between 1834 and 1836.

From the description of Harriet Martineau letter : Niagara Falls, to Rev. Charles Brooks, Hingham, 1834 Oct. 19. (Buffalo History Museum). WorldCat record id: 77546771

British writer.

From the description of Deerbrook : autograph manuscript, [ca. 1839]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270953134

From the description of Autograph letter signed : London, to Louisa C. Jeffrey, [1837] May 25. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 678624954

Harriet Martineau was an author, journalist, social commentator, and leading feminist intellectual in the second half of the nineteenth century. She was most noted for her economic, social, and political contributions to the theories of her day, particularly on political economy, positivist philosophy, agnosticism, radical causes, emancipation and the abolition of slavery, equal rights for women, and better working conditions for domestic, agricultural, and factory laborers.

From the description of Women, emancipation and literature: the papers of Harriet Martineau, 1802-1876 (inclusive), [microform]. (Yale University). WorldCat record id: 122569068

English author.

From the description of Letter, [undated]. (Historical Society of Washington, Dc). WorldCat record id: 70941759

From the description of Autograph letters signed (2) : Tynemouth, to Edward Moxon, 1844 Mar. 16-[no year] Nov. 14. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270608593

Born to manufacturing family in Norwich, England, Martineau was a versatile writer with a wide range of interests. A philosopher and economist, she was at the heart of the Victorian literary and social life.

From the description of Harriet Martineau papers, 1800-1994 (bulk 1821-1875) (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 40479363

Harriet Martineau was an eclectic and somewhat controversial English author, activist, and public figure, noted for the clarity of her wide-ranging mind. She wrote on an array of topics, including education, the antislavery movement, women's rights, political economy, religion, farming, and foreign policy, as well as novels, travel books, and children's stories. The respect she was accorded for her intelligence and ability was always tempered by Victorian views on gender roles. She continues to hold an ambiguous, almost contradictory, position in Victorian society.

From the description of Harriet Martineau letters and portrait, 1848-1865. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 56559046

Biographical Chronology

  • 1802: Birth of Harriet Martineau in Norwich, Norfolk, 12 June.
  • 1805: Her brother James is born.
  • 1809: First reads Milton.
  • 1813 - 14 : With her sister Rachel, attends the Reverend Isaac Perry's School, Norwich. Early signs of deafness.
  • 1818 - 19 : Spends fifteen months at a school for girls in Bristol run by her aunt, Mrs. Robert Rankin.
  • 1820: Ear trumpet needed.
  • 1822: Publication of first article in the Unitarian Monthly Repository:Female Writers on Practical Divinity.
  • 1824: Death of her eldest brother, Thomas, who had encouraged her writing.
  • 1825 - 6 : National economic crisis, damaging the Martineau manufacturing business.
  • 1826: Death of Harriet's father, Thomas Martineau. Harriet engaged to her brother James's college friend, John Hugh Worthington, who becomes suddenly ill and then insane.
  • 1827: Worthington dies. Harriet discovers political economy, and writes tales such as The Rioters and Principle and Practice.
  • 1829: Final collapse of the family business. William Johnson Fox pays her 15 pounds a year for regular contributions to the Monthly Repository.
  • 1830 - 1 : Wins all three prizes in an essay competition run by the British and Foreign Unitarian Association to present Unitarianism to Catholics, Jews, and Mohammedans.
  • 1831: Visits James in Dublin, and plans her Illustrations of Political Economy. Exhaustive hunt for publishers in London.
  • 1832: Publication by Charles Fox of the first of her Illustrations,Life in the Wilds (February). Instant success. Moves to London. Illustrations appear monthly until 1834. Martineau is lionized.
  • 1833 - 4 : Poor Laws and Paupers Illustrated (4 parts), commissioned by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
  • 1834: Illustrations of Taxation.
  • 1834 - 6 : Departs for America in August 1834 with travelling companion, Louisa Jeffrey. Travels widely; meets key abolitionists.
  • 1836 - 9 : Returns to London. Publishes her observations in Society in America and a more personal version of her visit, Retrospect of Western Travel.
  • 1839: Publishes a novel, Deerbrook. Visits Europe and falls ill in Italy. Brought home by her brother, James.
  • 1840 - 4 : Ill at Tynemouth, suffering from a prolapsed uterus and polypous tumor. Convinced she is about to die, but continues writing: The Hour and the Man (1841), The Playfellow (1841), and Life in the Sick-Room (1844). Mesmerized for the first time on 22 June 1844.
  • 1845: Believes she has been cured by mesmerism (hypnotism). Publishes Letters on Mesmerism in the Athenaeum and Dawn Island, an anti-Corn Law tale. Asks friends to destroy her letters. Meets Henry George Atkinson.
  • 1845 - 46 : Purchases lot in Ambleside, plans and builds her home, The Knoll. Writes Forest and Game Law Tales.
  • 1846 - 7 : Travels to Egypt and the Holy Land with Mr. and Mrs. Richard Vaughan Yates, a Unitarian philanthropist, and Joseph Ewart of Liverpool.
  • 1848: Publishes Eastern Life, Present and Past. Death of her mother at age 76. Begins lectures to Ambleside working class, and organizes a building society for them.
  • 1849: The History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace and Household Education published.
  • 1850: Invited by Dickens to contribute Household Words. Visit from Charlotte Brontë.
  • 1851: Publishes Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development, with Henry G. Atkinson. Her agnosticism becomes a public issue. Breaks with her brother James over his hostile review, Mesmeric Atheism, in the Prospective Review.
  • 1852: Visit from Mary Ann Evans [George Eliot]. Begins writing articles for the Daily News.
  • 1853: Translates and condenses Comte's Positive Philosophy.
  • 1855: Publishes her Complete Guide to the English Lakes. Feeling unwell again, goes to London for medical consultation. Convinced this is a different illness from her earlier one, and she has an enlarged heart. Expects imminent death. Writes her Autobiography, but does not publish it. The Factory Controversy: A Warning Against Meddling Legislation.
  • 1857: British Rule in India.
  • 1858: Contributes articles to the Edinburgh Review (until 1868). Suggestions Towards the Future Government of India.
  • 1859: Writes articles for Once A Week (until 1865).
  • 1861: Health, Husbandry, and Handicraft.
  • 1866: Stops contributing to the Daily News. Signs petition on women's suffrage presented to Parliament.
  • 1869: Campaigns against the extension of the Contagious Diseases Act, which was finally amended in 1871. Biographical Sketches.
  • 1876: Death of Harriet Martineau in Ambleside, 27 June.
  • 1877: Publication of her Autobiography, with Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman.

From the guide to the Harriet Martineau Papers, 1800-1994, (bulk 1821-1875), (The Bancroft Library)

Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a political economist, author, journalist, social commentator and leading feminist intellectual. She published widely and her publications included popular works on economics, several novels, and various children's stories. She was also a regular contributor to and editorial writer for the 'Daily News' and 'Edinburgh Review'.

She was born in Norwich in 1802, the fifth child of Thomas Martineau and Elizabeth Rankin Martineau. She began her literary career at a young age and her first her first article on 'Female Writers on Practical Divinity' appeared in the Unitarian periodical, 'The Monthly Repository' in 1821. Her first major successful work was 'Illustrations of Political Economy' (1832-34), which was quickly followed by 'Poor Law and Paupers Illustrated' (1833), and 'Illustrations of Taxation' (1834). She visited America between 1834 and 1836 and on her return wrote 'Society in America' (1837) and 'Retrospect of Western Travel' (1838). She continued to travel, visiting Italy, Egypt and Palestine, after which she published 'Eastern Life' (1848). Later publications included 'History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace' (1849) and a translation of Comte's 'Philosophie Positive' (1853). She lived initially in London then moved for a short time to Tynemouth near Newcastle to be near her brother but from the 1840s lived at Ambleside in the Lake District.

Harriet Martineau was an exceptional correspondent throughout her life and exchanged letters not just with publishers but also with political, literary and other prominent individuals of the time. She suffered from ill health for many years and also had impaired hearing. During her later life she was cared for by her nieces, most notably Maria Martineau.

From the guide to the Harriet Martineau, Letters Additional of, 1840-1890, (University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections)


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  • Women social reformers
  • Hamlet (Legendary character)--Manuscripts
  • Deafness
  • Authors, English--19th century--Correspondence
  • Feminists
  • Girls--Education
  • Potawatomi Indians
  • Authors, English--19th century
  • Festivals
  • Women--History--19th century
  • Women authors, English--19th century--Correspondence
  • Bereavement
  • Education--History--19th century
  • Intellectuals
  • Social reformers
  • Abolitionists


  • Authors
  • Economists


  • England (as recorded)
  • Washington (D.C.) (as recorded)
  • Niagara Falls (N.Y. and Ont.) (as recorded)
  • England (as recorded)
  • England (as recorded)
  • Queenston (Ont.) (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)