Harriet Taylor Mill

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Harriet Taylor Mill

Harriet Taylor Mill (née Harriet Hardy) (London, 8 October 1807 – Avignon, 3 November 1858) was a philosopher and women's rights advocate. Her second husband was John Stuart Mill, one of the pre-eminent thinkers of the 19th century. Her extant corpus of writing is very small, and she is largely remembered for her influence upon John Stuart Mill.[1]

Premarital relationship with Mill[edit]

Taylor was attracted to Mill, the first man she met who treated her as an intellectual equal. Mill was impressed with Taylor, asking her to read and comment on the latest book he was working on. The two became close friends.[2]

In 1833 she lived in a separate residence from her husband, keeping her daughter with her while John Taylor raised the two older boys. John Taylor agreed to Harriet's friendship with Mill in exchange for the "external formality" of her residing "as his wife in his house".[3] Over the next few years Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill exchanged essays on issues such as marriage and women's rights; the surviving essays reveal that Taylor held, on these matters, more radical views than Mill. Taylor was attracted to the socialist philosophy promoted by Robert Owen in books such as The Formation of Character (1813) and A New View of Society (1814). In her essays Taylor especially criticized the degrading effect of women's economic dependence upon men.

Marriage to Mill[edit]

After John Taylor died in 1849, Taylor and Mill waited two years before marrying in 1851. Taylor was hesitant to create greater scandal than the pair already had. Her radical views on marriage and equality delayed her from wishing to enter a marriage. She did, however, marry Mill, and wrote a number of essays, including The Enfranchisement of Women, published in 1851.[3] Many of her arguments in this piece would be developed in J. S. Mill's The Subjection of Women, published eleven years after her death.

Own work[edit]

Except for a few articles in the Unitarian journal Monthly Repository, Taylor published little of her own work during her lifetime. She did, however, read and comment on all the material produced by John Stuart Mill. In his autobiography, Mill claimed Harriet as the joint author of most of the books and articles published under his name. He added, "when two persons have their thoughts and speculations completely in common it is of little consequence, in respect of the question of originality, which of them holds the pen." Together, they wrote "Early Essays on Marriage and Divorce", published in 1832.[3]

A letter written by Mill in 1854 suggests Taylor was reluctant to be described as joint author of Mill's books and articles; "I shall never be satisfied unless you allow our best book, the book which is to come, to have our two names on the title page. It ought to be so with everything I publish, for the better half of it all is yours".

J. S. Mill called her a valuable contributor to much of his work, especially On Liberty, which he later dedicated to her when it was published in 1859, a year after her death.[4][5]


Harriet Taylor Mill died in Avignon after developing severe lung congestion, a consequence of tuberculosis [6] on 3 November 1858. Her daughter Helen, who would become a well known feminist, completed the writing of The Subjection of Women with Mill.

Upon her death, Mill 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.[7] [8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Hayek, F.A. (1951), John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, Their Correspondence and Subsequent Marriage (1 ed.), Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, retrieved 2012-12-08 
  2. ^ Right Again - The passions of John Stuart Mill by Adam Gopnik , The New Yorker, October 6, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Tong, Rosemarie (2009). Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Westview Press (Perseus Books). p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8133-4375-4. 
  4. ^ "Harriet Taylor". BBC History, Historic Figures. BBC. 
  5. ^ Mill, John Stuart (1873). Autobiography (1873 first ed.). London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. pp. 251–252. 
  6. ^ Jacobs, Jo Ellen. The Voice of Harriet Taylor Mi... Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002, p. 189.
  7. ^ Mill, John Stuart (1859). On Liberty (1859 first ed.). London: John W. Parker. p. 6. 
  8. ^ Harriet Mill Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

External links[edit]