Although we think of sexism as a situation that has been dealt with, we still
have much to learn. A key turning point in discrimination against women was the courageous actions of Harriet Martineau. Harriet was born in 1802, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Martineau. She grew up in a home without any encouragement for her
education. Instead she was trained, as all other women in her life, to be a homemaker.
However this did not stop her efforts to pursue her dream. Even though she risked exile
from her family, friends, and society at whole, Harriet continued her studies of women’s
lesser role in the social aspects of life.
Harriet described her childhood as a “burdensome experience” (Household
Education, 1849). Her mother held a strong sense of tyranny in their home due to her
upbringing, believing in a more traditional way of child rearing. Men went to college and women stayed at home, her mother believed. Harriet felt she was trapped in this
matriarchal way of life, until her father Thomas died sometime during the 1820’s. For
her this was a chance to escape from her mother and an unfulfilling life. Because of the financial difficulties in their family now, she could finally be free from that middle class prison and was able to move out on her own.
Now with the burden of her family difficulties lifted from her shoulders she was
able to learn more about herself and follow her dream of being a writer. “I have
determined that my chief subordinate object in life shall henceforth be the cultivation of my intellectual powers, with a view to the instruction of others by my writings
(http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/martineau.html),” she said. With an aspiring attitude
she started writing. Initially, her writings were more religious in nature because of her belief in Unitarianism. Later however, she adapted Necessarianism, which allowed her to use a more social scientific viewpoint. This lead to even greater success in her writing.
Her first work was published anonymously in 1823 in the Unitarian Journal called
Monthly Repository. This had a huge impact among readers and was a profound start to
her career. Later when her brother James Martineau found out that she was the author he
said, “now dear, leave it to the other women to make skirts and darn stockings, and you
... middle of paper ...
...lete invalid worsening her health even more. By 1870s she had to slow down her activity in her studies of sociology. And finally in 1876 Harriet died of bronchitis.
Twenty years before that she had already written her obituary. People said it was in her usual fashion to be so prepared. She saw the human race, as she believed,
advancing under the law of progress; she enjoyed her share of the experience, and had no
ambition for a larger endowment, or reluctance or anxiety about leaving the enjoyment of
such as she had (Pichanick, 239).
Hill, Michael R. Women In Sociology "Harriet Martineau" p. 289-297
Chapman, Maria Westman ed. Harriet Martineau's Autobiography Boston, James Osgood, 1877.
Pichanick, Valerie K. Harriet Martineau, The Woman and Her Work, 1802-76:
University of Michigan Press, 1980.
Kellor, Frances. “Harriet Martineau.” Women’s Intellectual Contributions to the Study
Of Mind and Society. http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/martineau.html
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.15th edition. Chicago/
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