Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

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Remember the Ladies: Harriet Taylor Mill

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Harriet Taylor Mill (née Harriet Hardy) (8 October 1807 – 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. [Wikipedia]

After marrying her husband, John Taylor, at age 18, and bearing him two children, she was, at 23, bored. It was then she met John Stuart Mill, and her life changed dramatically. For 21 years they met almost daily, exchanged essays, dined together and spent weekends together. Taylor didn’t mind this, but was livid when Mill suggested that his books, which were really joint productions, bear Harriet’s name as well as Mill’s. Taylor thought that even a dedication to Harriet would be “a waste of taste and tact which I could not have believed possible.”

Harriet soon found that Mill’s ideas were somewhat less radical than her own. She favored abolition of marriage laws and supported the right and responsibility of a woman to control her own fertility. She also believed in equal employment opportunities for women and men.

In perhaps her most known work, Enfranchisement of Women, she wrote, “We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion…what is and what is not their ‘proper sphere.’ The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain.” [Remember the Ladies, Kirsten Olsen]

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