Harriet Martineau and the Unitarian tradition in education

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Colleges, School and Institutes


This paper examines the role of Harriet Martineau as a public educator in the light of her Unitarian upbringing and heritage. First, it explores the Unitarian contribution to educational philosophy, psychology and practice at the end of the 18th century and then subsequent developments in the 19th, singling out the work of those people who particularly influenced Martineau. Secondly, the paper looks at selected works of Martineau which illustrate and take further the educational principles and interests in which she herself had been educated. It shows that, throughout Martineau's life, her prolific writings on and participation in a wide variety of political, economic, social and cultural issues were underpinned by a deep desire to educate the public, unfailingly optimistic that if everyone was correctly educated necessary social change would take place. She remained true to the Unitarian emphasis on rational morality, thinking for oneself and questioning cherished assumptions even when she eschewed actual Unitarianism. The final section briefly assesses Martineau's place as a public educator and what she owed to her Unitarian heritage.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-651
Number of pages15
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011