1802 – 1876 A.D.
Harriet Martineau, an English author. She was descended from the Huguenots, a party of whom, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, settled in Norwich, England, where Harriet was born. She received a liberal education, and at an early age, being afflicted with a constantly increasing deafness, found her chief recreation in literary composition.
When her father died in 1826 he left his family destitute, and Harriet was compelled to rely upon her pen for support. Another sorrow at this time was the death of a young minister to whom she was engaged to be married. During these days of poverty she worked all day long with her needle, and at night with her pen, earning very little in both ways. For two years she lived on fifty pounds a year. She offered her sketches to editors of magazines and publishers, and they were scarcely looked at. Under the guise of fiction, she wrote books on religion, political economy, property, taxes, wealth, labor, and subjects pertaining to good citizenship.
After five years of struggle, during which she was compelled to solicit subscriptions for her own books, her talents at last won pronounced recognition, and she was besought on every side to make up various subjects for treatment.
She was now thirty years of age, and moved to London, where a life of fame and honor in the great world began. She met and enjoyed the most noted people of her time, among them Southey, Coleridge, Florence Nightingale, Charlotte Brontë, Sydney Smith, Landseer, Browning and Carlyle. Her books were read and talked about everywhere.
In 1834 she visited the United States, and met socially the most distinguished persons, among them Webster, Clay, Chief Justice Marshall, Garrison and Emerson. “She is the most continual talker I ever heard,” said Hawthorne, “it is like the babbling of a brook, and very lively and sensible too; and all the while she talks, she moves the bowl of her ear-trumpet from one auditor to another, so that it becomes an organ of intelligence and sympathy between her and yourself.”
She came to America for rest, and yet such a woman could not help studying our institutions and our people. On her return to England she wrote her work called Society in America, in which she showed a wonderful knowledge of our plan of government, our politics, our charities, indeed our whole country, with its unsolved problems. In this book, published in 1837, she advocated suffrage for women.
After a long illness, she bought, in 1845, two acres of land, and built her pretty graystone cottage, near Ambleside, on Lake Windermere, where she lived until her death. Here she met the aged poet Wordsworth, and here she wrote numerous books on many subjects, always with a clear head and a brave heart.
Her death caused mourning throughout England, and on this side of the ocean the sorrow was not less genuine and the honor not less universal.
A statue of her in white marble was unveiled in Boston in 1883, on which occasion in his last public speech, Wendell Phillips said: “In an epoch fertile of great genius among women, it may be said of Miss Martineau, that she was the peer of the noblest, and that her influence on the progress of the age was more than equal to that of all the others combined.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.