Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Harriet Martineau: A Legend Almost Forgotten

Harriet Martineau was born on June 12, 1802 in Norwich, England to Elizabeth and Thomas Martineau (Conway-Long, 2004; Lengermann & Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998; Simkin, 2001; Willot, 1998). Harriet's parents raised her as a Unitarian, the beliefs of which greatly influenced her life. Although she was sickly and deaf her entire life, she was an amazing women who was greatly ahead of her time and, has been denied the recognition she deserves for her accomplishments and works. She should be one of the "fore-mothers" of sociology.

Harriet was the sixth of eight children (Willett, 1998). The children all received an equal education (well, as much as was possible) until college (Simkin, 2001). Although her parents were quite progressive for their time, when it came time for a higher education, the boys (of course) were sent to continue learning and the girls were not. Being the feminist that she was, Harriet wrote an anonymous article, "On Female Education" for a Unitarian journal, the Monthly Repository, in 1823 (Simkin, 2001). When her brother James found out that she wrote it, he said: "Now, dear, leave it to the other women to make skirts and darn stockings, and you devote yourself to this"(Simkin, 2001)--which is exactly what she did for the rest of her life.

The Unitarian Society, promoting rationalism, individualism, and democracy, formed in the late 18th century as a liberal religious sect that believes that Jesus Christ was a leader who should not be worshipped (Simkin, 2001). Unitarians hold humans responsible for the evil of the world (not an outside force). Therefore, they believe that humans can fix the problems they create (Simkin, 2001). Although Harriet eventually rejected religion (Simkin, 2001), the core characteristics mentioned are prominently displayed throughout her life. Harriet's father arranged a marriage for her, but she refused, focusing instead on more publications for the Monthly Repository. When her father died in 1829, she moved to London and began to receive a little money for her articles in the journal (Simkin, 2001). In 1826, Harriet published two religious books: Devotional Exercises for the Use of Young Persons and Addresses for the Use of Families. She also wrote a book about politics and economics which revealed the influence of the Unitarian belief of social reform, titled Illustrations of Political Economy (1832). That book, in addition to her next one, Poor Laws and Paupers Illustrated (1834) sold so many copies that she earned enough to spend the next two years studying in the United States. Harriet's Unitarian foundation is quite evident in her reports and notes of her visit to the United States, which she published in the book Society in America (1837). What she had noticed was the huge discrepancy between the United States' so-called "democracy" and the actual practices of the society. In the book, she describes a sociological method of studying, noting how important it was to be objective and to observe every possible aspect of behavior to properly form an educated opinion (Conway-Long, 2004; Lengermann & Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998). However, she does not use the term, "sociology," which is coined by Comte or "sociological method," which is attributed to Durkheim-some sixty years later (Conway-Long, 2004). She reports about the treatment of women in the United States during that time in the chapter "The Political Non-existence of Women", and goes so far as to say that an American woman's life equal to that of a slave's, stating "they were both 'given indulgence rather than justice'", (Simkin, 2001, n.p.). Harriet saw that women were denied education and had only one option and duty in the United States: marriage. In her book, she openly writes against discrimination and slavery.

In 1852, Harriet began writing for Charles Dickens' newspaper, the Daily News, where she totaled over 1600 articles (Simkin, 2001). In addition, she wrote for other journals and magazines in support of fair treatment for women in the workforce, for women to be allowed into the medical field, as well as for state education for females. In 1866, she joined other women with a petition for women's suffrage in a presentation to Parliament; and, a few years after Parliament passed the Contagious Diseases Act in 1864, Harriet wrote articles in the Daily News denouncing the law (Simkin, 2001). The Act (justified as an attempt to stop males in the military from catching sexually transmitted diseases) allowed the police to arrest any "prostitutes in ports and army towns" and force them to be tested; and, if they found she had an STD she was imprisoned in a hospital until she was "cured" (Simkin, 2001). The law was sexually discriminatory, as it only applied to females, and was unjust in that the police arrested and imprisoned many females who were not prostitutes. Harriet, along with Josephine Butler and Elizabeth Wolstenholme started the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, a campaign in which women spoke to public audiences around the country about and against the Act (Simkin, 2001). Because they were females not afraid to speak about sex in public, the Association created quite a stir but, they continued to fight for over twenty years until Parliament finally repealed the law in 1886 (Simkin, 2001). Unfortunately, Harriet did not live to see that day. She had died ten years earlier but had continued to write and published until her death in 1876 (Conway-Long, 2004; Simkin, 2001).

Harriet Martineau was a strong advocate of women's rights, in a time when women were mostly seen and not heard. She studied different societies, cultures and topics in support of many different subjects and published an amazing amount of literature-despite the fact that she was a female. The world seems to have ignored her studies and ideas. She is mainly remembered only for her translation of Auguste Comte's book on economics (Conway-Long, 2004). Instead, the credit and recognition she deserves has gone widely unacknowledged or unjustly given to men.

Works Cited

Conway-Long, D. (September 29, 2004). Harriet Martineau. [Lecture]. St. Louis: Webster University.

Lengermann, P., & Niegrugge-Brantley, J. (1998). The women founders: Sociology and social theory, 1830-1930. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Martineau, H. (1839). Deerbrook, 3 vols. London: Edward Moxon.

Martineau, H. (1848). Eastern life: Present and past (Vols.1-3). London: Edward Moxon.

< Martineau, H. (1877). Harriet Martineau's autobiography (Vols. 1-2). (Maria Weston Chapman, Ed.). Boston: James R. Osgood & Co.

Martineau, H. (1832-1834). Illustrations of political economy (Vols.1-9). London: Charles Fox.

Martineau, H. (1839). The martyr age of the United States. Boston: Weeks, Jordan.

Martineau, H. (1853). The positive philosophy of Auguste Comte (Vols. 1-2). London: Chapman.

Martineau, H. (1838). Retrospect of western travel (Vols 1-3). London: Saunders and Otley.

Martineau, H. (1837). Society in America/i> (Vols. 1-3). London: Saunders and Otley. Seymour Martin Lipset, rpr. Ed.). (1961). Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books

Martineau, H. (2002). Harriet Martineau: Writings on slavery and the American civil war. (Deborah Anna Logan, Ed.) DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.

Simkin, John. (1998). Harriet Marinteau. Retreived September 24, 2004, from Spartacus Educational Web site: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wmartineau.htm

Willett, P. (Ed.). Harriet Martineau's autobiography, Vol. 1 (1877): a machine-readable transcription. [Electronic version]. Retreived September 24, 2004, from Indiana University, Victorian Women Writers Project Library Web site: Digital library program; http://www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/martineau/martineau1.html

Major Works by Harriet Martineau

(Retreived on September 29, 2004, from: http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/martineau.htm)

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