Harriet Martineau Papers

Scope and Content

Correspondence, literary manuscripts and other papers of Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), writer. This collection comprises a substantial quantity of correspondence of Harriet Martineau with contemporary authors and writers, politicians, journalists and other public figures. The letters document her activities and contributions as a social and political commentator, journalist and literary writer and as a feminist intellectual and contain a wealth of information about her philosophies and concerning such issues as women' rights, improved access to health and education, better working conditions and practices, particularly for domestic, agricultural and factory workers, and emancipation and abolition of slavery.

Correspondents include Matthew Arnold, William Edward Forster, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Gladstone, Robert Graves, Florence Nightingale, Lord John Russell, and Henry William Wilberforce. The collection also contains her correspondence with important publishers and editors for whom she wrote leaders and articles. These include Sir Richard Robinson, Thomas Walker and William Weir of the Daily News , John Chapman of the Westminster Review and Henry Reeve of the Edinburgh Review . The correspondence also includes letters to and from other members of the Martineau family including Helen, Richard, Russell, Susan and Thomas Martineau. The collection also contains a number of her literary and other manuscripts including autograph manuscripts of her Autobiography , History of England during the Thirty Years Peace, 1816-1846 , A Tale of the Tyne and Poor Laws and Paupers . Other manuscript writings include articles such as Modern Domestic Service , Salem Witchcraft , What can Women Do? and notes on medical matters, education, strikes and political views. Most of the items in this collection are mounted in fascicules.

Administrative / Biographical History

Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a political economist, author, journalist, social commentator and leading feminist intellectual. She published widely and her publications included popular works on economics, several novels, and various children's stories. She was also a regular contributor to and editorial writer for the Daily News and Edinburgh Review .

She was born in Norwich in 1802, the fifth child of Thomas Martineau and Elizabeth Rankin Martineau. She began her literary career at a young age and her first article on Female Writers on Practical Divinity appeared in the Unitarian periodical, The Monthly Repository in 1821. Her first major successful work was Illustrations of Political Economy (1832-34), which was quickly followed by Poor Law and Paupers Illustrated (1833), and Illustrations of Taxation (1834). She visited America between 1834 and 1836 and on her return wrote Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of Western Travel (1838). She continued to travel, visiting Italy, Egypt and Palestine, after which she published Eastern Life (1848). Later publications included History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace (1849) and a translation of Comte's Philosophie Positive (1853). She lived initially in London then moved to Tynemouth near Newcastle to be near her brother. She spent four years there during a period of ill-health but from the 1840s lived at Ambleside in the Lake District in a house she designed herself.

Harriet Martineau was an exceptional correspondent throughout her life and exchanged letters not just with publishers but also with political, literary and other prominent individuals of the time. She suffered from ill health for many years and also had impaired hearing. During her later life she was cared for by her nieces, most notably Maria Martineau. She suffered from ill-health for many years and was also profoundly deaf.

Reference: Women, Emancipation and Literature. The Papers of Harriet Martineau 1802-1876 from Birmingham University Library. A Listing and Guide to the Microfilm Collection ( Adam Matthew Publications, 1991 ). ; Janet Todd (ed), Dictionary of British Women Writers ( Routledge 1989 ). ; Dictionary of National Biography ( Vol XII, London 1909 ).


Arranged into several sections: HM/1-1035 General Correspondence (largely arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent); HM/1036-1222 Publishing Correspondence (arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent); HM/1223-1386 Miscellaneous documents; HM/1387-1423 Manuscripts by Harriet Martineau. A further section has been created for the additional papers deposited by Mr Denis Martineau.

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Other Finding Aids

Please see full catalogue for further details.

Alternative Form Available

This collection has been microfilmed and has been micropublished by Adam Matthew Publications as part of its micropublication of the collected papers of Harriet Martineau under the title Women, Emancipation and Literature

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Related Material

The Special Collections Department also holds the Letters Additional of Harriet Martineau, an artificial collection of letters and other papers of and relating to Harriet Martineau and other members of the Martineau family.

Letters of Harriet Martineau are found in collections around the world. In addition to Birmingham's large holdings, another large collection is in the library of the University of California, Berkeley campus. Details of holdings of Martineau material can be found on the National Register of Archives database.