Harriet Martineau, pioneering feminist and radical authority on economics, politics, and society, popularized the ideas of Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, James Mill, Joseph Priestey, and Jeremy Bentham as well as those of Auguste Comte. Earning her living as an editorial writer for the Daily News and as the author of more than 100 books, she made a reputation as a social scientist and historian.
According to Gayle Graham Yates, an authority on Martineau, "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." Her important advocacy of political reform in England, the anti-slavery movement, nursing in the Crimean War, and feminism all derive from a radicalism based on a belief in what Yates terms "rationalism, progressivism, organizational behavior, voice for the inarticulate, respect for the individual, and faith in science."
According to Yates, Martineau provides a
paradigm of mainstream Western feminism. . . .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. Embracing practically every cause clearly in favor of woman's advancement in her lifetime [such as education, work, and marriage] 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. . . . She was the first Englishwoman to make the analogy between the American woman's lot and the slave's."
Where to go next: You might wish to look at Harriet Martineau on Women, ed. Gayle Graham Yates (New Brunswick: Rutgers U. P., 1985), from whose introduction much of the preceeding information has been taken.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000. Last modified 20 March 2010