Front Page Titles (by Subject) J.S. Mill, Harriet Taylor, & Women - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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J.S. Mill, Harriet Taylor, & Women - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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J.S. Mill, Harriet Taylor, & Women
“John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor, and Women’s Rights In America 1850–1873.” Canadian Journal of History 13(December 1978):423–442.
John Stuart Mill is considered to have had the greatest single influence on the women’s rights movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through his works “The Enfranchisement of Women” and SUBJECTION OF WOMEN, he drew together the fragmented thoughts about equality of women into a cohesive, rational philosophy which provided a sound statement of principle for women’s rights.
Mill did not emerge as the great champion of women’s rights until 1867, when as a parliamentary leader in England he proposed an amendment to the Second Reform Bill to extend the franchise to women property-holders. His speeches and activities in Parliament gave increased status to the women’s rights movement in both England and America. The essay “Enfranchisement,” written by Mill and his wife Harriet Taylor, was immediately successful, widely quoted and circulated. This essay addressed the inequalities of the American political system in retard to the development of woman as a free individual. By the time SUBJECTION OF WOMEN was published in 1869, John Stuart Mill had become a household name.
The purpose of SUBJECTION was to analyze the development of traditional social and legal dependence of women upon men. Mill judged the subordination of one sex to the other to be the last remnant of a primitive state of slavery. Under the sanction of law, women are conditioned by cultural mandates to accept a dependent state. Any protest has always been considered unfeminine and unnatural.
More specifically, Mill claimed the family unit was the major factor in promulgating women’s inferior status. The legal equality of married persons was the only remedy to begin the basic change in society towards the moral improvement of humanity. He wrote that laws had to be changed in order for the relationship of marriage to change. He portrayed the “domestic tyranny” of some men: “he (the husband) can commit any atrocity except killing her, and if tolerably cautious, can do that without the danger of the legal penalty.” He denounced the family as a “school of despotism,” but felt that if it were justly constituted, it “would be a real school for the virtues of freedom.” Until marriage fostered the daily cultivation of true freedom and equality, Mill could foresee little progress of those virtues in society.
Though Mill’s book was considered to be a classic literary event in its time, most women leaders who were pursuing the specific legal rights were either disappointed or did not find it useful. The theme of the book dealt with an implicit assumption of the equality of the sexes. This was an unpalatable concept in 1869, even to women, particularly since Mill proclaimed the root of inequality was imbedded in the family.
In many ways Mill’s vision for women in society was much larger than that of women themselves. Women addressed specific issues of equality: suffrage, education, and professional opportunities, whereas Mill dealt with the importance of complete equality.
By contrast, the essay “Enfranchisement,” which Mill and Harriet Taylor didn’t consider very good, was embraced by feminists immediately, whereas subjection of women had to wait 40 years until it was given its proper place in the role of equality of the sexes. In the early 1900’s when equal rights were finally established, Subjection of Women, considered the “greatest single factor in the change,” came to be referred to as the “Bible of Feminism.”