Harriet Martineau

English writer and sociologist (1802–1876)

Harriet Martineau (June 12, 1802June 27, 1876) was an English writer and philosopher, known in her day as a journalist, political economist, abolitionist and life-long feminist.

If a test of civilization be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power.


  • If a test of civilization be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power.
    • Women, vol. 3, Society in America (1837).
  • For my own part, I had rather suffer any inconvenience from having to work occasionally in chambers and kitchen … than witness the subservience in which the menial class is held in Europe.
    • Occupation, vol. 3, Society in America (1837).
  • Fidelity to conscience is inconsistent with retiring modesty. If it be so, let the modesty succumb. It can be only a false modesty which can be thus endangered.
    • Women, vol. 3, Society in America (1837).
  • What office is there which involves more responsibility, which requires more qualifications, and which ought, therefore, to be more honourable, than that of teaching?
    • Occupation, vol. 3, Society in America (1837).

Quotes about Harriet Martineau

  • Only a little over a quarter of a century ago women were allowed to enter very few remunerative occupations. In 1840, when Harriet Martineau visited this country to study its institutions, that she might be able to forecast the type of civilization to be evolved from them, she especially investigated the position of women in the young republic. She was surprised to find the occupying a very subordinate position in a country calling itself free, and to find they had entered only seven paying occupations. They were allowed to teach, to be seamstresses, which included tailoring, dress-making, and millinery; they could keep boarding-houses, enter domestic service, become operatives in factories, compositors in printing offices, and folders and stitchers in book binderies.
  • Women's position has variously been likened to that of the slaves, oppressed ethnic or racial minorities, or economically deprived groups. But these comparisons quickly prove inadequate. The slave comparison obviously was a rhetorical device rather than a factual statement even at the time when Harriet Martineau first made it.
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)
  • Lord Brougham remarked that the works of Harriet Martineau upon Political Economy were not excelled by those of any political writer of the present time. The first few chapters of her "Society in America," her views of a Republic, and of government generally, furnish evidence of woman's capacity to embrace subjects of universal interest.
    • Lucretia Mott, "Why Should Not Woman Seek to Be a Reformer?" (1854)
  • When Harriet Martineau, a reformer of the 1830s, wrote Society in America, one reviewer suggested it be kept away from women: "Such reading will unsettle them for their true station and pursuits, and they will throw the world back again into confusion."
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