Harriet Taylor Mill (née Harriet Hardy) (8 October 1807 – 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.
Harriet Hardy married her first husband, John Taylor, in 1826, when she was eighteen. With him, she had three children: Herbert, Algernon, and Helen. John and Harriet Taylor both became active in the Unitarian Church and developed radical views on politics. They became friendly with William Fox, a leading Unitarian minister and early supporter of women's rights. Harriet Taylor moved in radical circles and in 1830 she met the philosopher John Stuart Mill.
Read an excerpt from Harriet Taylor Mill's "Enfranchisement of Women," first published in the Westminster Review in July 1851.
Premarital relationship with Mill
Taylor was attracted to Mill, the first man she had met who treated her as an intellectual equal. Mill was impressed with Taylor and asked her to read and comment on the latest book he was working on. The two became very close friends.
In 1833 she lived in a separate residence from her husband, keeping her daughter with her while Taylor raised the two older boys. John Taylor agreed to Taylor's friendship with Mill in exchange for the "external formality" of her residing "as his wife in his house". Over the next few years Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill exchanged essays on issues such as marriage and women's rights. Those essays that have survived reveal that Taylor held more radical views than Mill on these subjects. Taylor was attracted to the socialist philosophy that had been promoted by Robert Owen in books such as The Formation of Character (1813) and A New View of Society (1814). In her essays Taylor was especially critical of the degrading effect of women's economic dependence on men.
Marriage to Mill
After John Taylor died in 1849, Taylor and Mill waited two years before marrying in 1851, after twenty-one years of friendship. Taylor was hesitant to create even more of a scandal than the pair already had, and her radical views on marriage and equality prevented her from wishing to enter a marriage. After their marriage, Taylor wrote many essays, including "The Enfranchisement of Women", published in 1851. 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.
Except for a few articles in the Unitarian journal Monthly Repository, Taylor published little of her own work during her lifetime. However, Taylor read and commented on all the material produced by John Stuart Mill. In his autobiography, Mill claimed that Harriet was the joint author of most of the books and articles that were 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.
A letter written by Mill in 1854 suggests that 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.
Harriet Taylor Mill died in Avignon after developing severe lung congestion, a consequence of tuberculosis on 3 November 1858. Her daughter Helen completed the writing of The Subjection of Women, along 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."