Harriet Martineau

By: Olivia Fogelsonger


Harriet was born in 1802 to Thomas and Elizabeth Martineau. She was the sixth of eight children in an upper middle class English family. When Harriet was born, her mother gave her to a wet nurse who had ceased lactation, so she was fed milk. For years she delt with the feeling of a heavy lump in her through that would sometimes cause her to throw up and at one point, led her into depression. Because of this, Harriet claimed that she had no sense of taste or smell. Later in life, Harriet became deaf. At the age of 15, when Harriet began rapidly losing her ability to hear, her parents sent her to live with her aunt and uncle. It was her uncle that introduced her to great writers and reinforced her religious views. Her education came mostly from self study at home. As an adult, Harriet was engaged to marry John Worthington, before they were able to go through with the marriage, John had a physical and mental collapse and after losing her fiancé, Harriet remained single for the rest of her life. By 1829, Harriet had committed herself to writing.

10 Facts

-One of Harriets most well known works is the positive philosophy of Auguste Comte, her translated and condensed version of Comte's Cours de philosophie positive.

-Between 1834 and 1836, she studied and visited the United States, and reported her findings in Society In America in 1837, and The Retrospect of Western Travel in 1838.

-In 1838, she also wrote a book called How to Observe Morals and Manors, which elaborated on the principles and methods of empirical social research.

-Society In America is her most widely known work to sociology in the United States.

-Harriet examined social classes, religion, suicide, national character, domestic relations, the status of women, criminology, and the interactions between individuals and institutions before Marx, Engels or Weber.

-In her work; Eastern Life Past and Present, she openly embraced atheism after a visit to the Mid- East in 1848.

-Because of this embrace of Atheism, she lost the support of many of her family members, especially her brother James, whom she had been very close to throughout her childhood.

-Throughout her lifetime, Harriet wrote over 1500 columns as a pioneer in what is now called sociology.

- She was forgotten in sociology, literature, history and journalism because of the male academic system.

-When Harriet died of illness in 1876, she had already written her own obituary.