Skip Navigation
Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Harriet Martineau

b. 1802, Norwich, Norfolk, England; d. 1876, near Ambleside, Westmoreland, England

Harriet Martineau was one of the most prolific and versatile writers of the Victorian period. Her prodigious output includes books and essays on politics, economics, and theology, as well as fiction and children’s stories. She became well-known with the publication of Illustrations of Political Economy (9 vols., 1832–34) and Illustrations of Taxation (1834), in which she used stories to explicate abstruse economic principles for the layman. After visiting the United States (1834–36), she wrote Society in America (1837), which included her often critical observations on American life, particularly with regard to slavery, and the essay “The Politicial Non-Existence of Women.” This was followed by Retrospect of Western Travel in 1838. These works, coupled with her 1853 translation of French philosopher Auguste Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive of 1830–42, have earned her a reputation as a pioneering sociologist, due to her knowledge and practice of using scientific methods to collect data for social research. Her best-known novels include Deerbrook (1839) and The Hour and the Man (1841).