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Harriet Martineau


Harriet Martineau (1802 – 1876) was an English social theorist and Whig writer often seen as the first female sociologist. She was sent away from home to stay with relatives a number of times during her childhood, primarily for health reasons. In 1829, Harriet Martineau took on the task of financially providing for her family when their textile business failed, an event she saw as positive. She sold her needlework, and she began selling articles to the Monthly Repository, a Unitarian magazine. Illustrations of Political Economy established Harriet Martineau financially and as a writer. This was a series of 24 stories published between 1832 and 1834, at a rate of 1 every month with 10,000 copies of each sold and many more read. Both Society in America and How to Observe are considered to be significant early contributions to the new field of sociology, and in 1853 Martineau translated the work of August Comte—founder of sociology—a translation Comte recommended to his students.

A sustained interest of Martineau’s was women and their work. She wanted women to be able to legally keep their wages rather than hand them over to their husbands, and she crusaded for good working conditions for needlewomen. Harriet Martineau was often ill with 2 long periods between 1839 and 1844 and between 1855 and 1876. Despite this, she is regarded as one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century.