Who was Harriet Taylor?

John Stuart Mill Read more from
Chapter Nineteenth Century Philosophy

Harriet Taylor (1807–1858) was John Stuart Mill’s wife. He met her when he was 25, while still recovering from his nervous breakdown. She had been married since the age of 18 to John Taylor, with whom she had three sons. Mill and Harriet Taylor had what they described as a platonic relationship, until the death of her husband after 20 years of marriage. At one point, the Taylors separated, with Harriet taking her daughter to live with her, while John raised their sons.

Some feminist writers believe that Harriet was actually the author of Mill’s The Subjection of Women, (1869) as well as other writings, such as On Liberty (1859), for which Mill gave her great credit. Taylor’s contemporary detractors referred to her as “that stupid woman,” and said she only appeared to have been Mill’s collaborator because she was adept at repeating what he had already said or written. Taylor published very little in her own name. She was a founding member of the Kensington Society, which circulated the first petition for the rights of women, and she contributed articles to the Unitarian journal, Monthly Repository. Mill was without question extremely devoted to her, and after her death he wrote:

Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom.


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