Liberty Matters

Harriet Taylor Mill on Marriage and Divorce (March/April 2024)

   In this Liberty Matters online discussion we assess the ideas of Harriet Taylor Mill and her partnership with John Stuart Mill. The authors often draw on Taylor Mill and Mill’s correspondence, edited by Friedrich von Hayek in 1951. The Lead Essay by Giandomenica Becchio puts Taylor Mill’s work and “radicalism” in context and argues for a more prominent role for Taylor Mill in regard to John Stuart Mill and on her own merits. Becchio is joined by Helen McCabe, Sandra J. Peart, and David Levy.
Harriet Hardy (1807-1873), known as Harriet Taylor Mill, played a fundamental role among early feminists of her time. Her name is usually connected with her second husband, John Stuart Mill, especially after the publication of their correspondence, edited by Friedrich von Hayek in 1951. Scholars tend to depict her as an influential figure in Mill’s life who inspired him in writing his well-known pamphlet The Subjection of Women (Mill, 1869) which represented the application of Mill’s classical liberal agenda, as described in his On Liberty (1859), to the woman question.
Nonetheless, Taylor Mill was a brilliant writer herself, as testified by her pamphlets and letters (edited by Jacobs in 1998). As women’s studies literature suggests, she was more radical than her husband in addressing the subjection of women, especially when considering her reflections on the institution of marriage as a tool to constrain women within the domestic sphere, preventing them from freely expressing their own preferences.[1]
It is important to highlight that Taylor Mill was not an isolated case in scrutinizing marriage as one of the most oppressive tools against women’s liberty. She belonged to a tradition of female writers and scholars, including Mary Astell (1700), Mary Pierrepont Montagu (1751), Mary Wollstonecraft (1792), and Harriet Martineau (1855), who, starting from the 18th century, intertwined their call for women’s education with the public outcry about the condition of married women.
Taylor Mill belonged to a generation of female scholars who lived and worked in Victorian England (1837 – 1901), when the rhetoric of marriage and family as the only condition for women’s fulfillment became central in building up the image of a prosperous society grounded on traditional moral values. The Victorian family sought to perfectly represent the doctrine of separate spheres, which implies that women and men perform different roles within society. Women are required to take care of the private sphere, which includes household and family, while men are required to succeed in the public sphere, encompassing the political and economic arena. This dichotomy only appears to treat women and men equally. In fact, the public sphere is the dominion of power, either in economic or political terms, and it  rules the private sphere. Hence, traditionally, women have been subject to male power. In fact, women were subject to their fathers before, and to their husbands after marriage. They did not have legal rights to their properties. They had no political rights. They were not allowed to attend high schools and universities, and thus were unable to access remunerative professions. Middle and upper-class women almost never entered the job-market, while lower-class women always worked to provide extra money to their families. Things gradually changed starting from the late 19th century when middle-class women began to enter the job market, mainly as a consequence of early feminists’ battle to gain access to higher education, including academic curricula, for girls and young women.
Taylor Mill’s personal and intellectual life served as a counter-example to the Victorian attitude toward marriage and the strict gender separation between public and private spheres. As is well-known, she separated from her first husband, John Taylor, in order to pursue her relationship with J. S. Mill. The couple got married in 1851, two years after John Taylor’s death. More importantly, she published several pamphlets on marriage, divorce, and the education of women (Taylor Mill 1828; 1831; 1832; 1851) that were focused on a sharp critique of the condition of married women of the time and the relegation of women to the private sphere as a violent form of constriction of their liberty. In 1832, she co-authored with Mill another pamphlet specifically on marriage and divorce (Taylor Mill and Mill, 1832).[2]
In her pamphlet on women’s education, Taylor Mill emphasized the unfairness and inefficiency of considering the private sphere as the only one suitable for women. She insisted that this condition was a consequence of a lack of education and not the effect of women’s natural propensity to take care of domestic affairs. Furthermore, she pointed out that the main source of women’s subjection was the institution of marriage as it was conceived in her time.
In their co-authored essay, Taylor Mill and Mill presented marriage as it should be in a free society: a contract between two peers based on mutual friendship and a shared will to spend their lives together until they both agree to part. They pointed out that marriage at their time was not intended as a contract between equals, but rather as a relation between a superior and an inferior, between a protector and a dependent. This was evident, given that “a woman [wa]s at all dependent for her social position upon the fact of her being or not being married” (Taylor Mill and Mill, 1832, 4). The lack of education for girls reinforced the subjection of women in a society that considered women as valuable for society as a whole if and only if they got married, while an unmarried woman was “felt both by herself and others as a kind of excrescence on the surface of society, having no use or function or office there” (ibid). Taylor Mill and Mill continued by claiming that unmarried women often considered their lives “a failure” (ibid, 7).
Deprived of their own personal freedom to choose their own lives, and often forced into unhappy marriages, described as lotteries that “whoever is in a state of mind to calculate chances calmly and value them correctly, is not at all likely to purchase a ticket.” (ibid, 8), women were prevented from divorcing, divorce being prohibitively expensive and largely accessible only to men.
The legal constraints, along with social pressure and gender biases related to marriage (and divorce), made married women “merely slaves” and made their husbands “masters”. This situation was no longer acceptable in “the progress of civilization (ibid, 11). Taylor Mill and Mill insisted that the traditional mentality based on the subjection of women was obsolete and bound to harm society by reducing the degree of liberty.
This was the main argument adopted by Harriet Taylor Mill in her pamphlet on divorce published in the same year (1832): without granting the possibility of divorcing to women, the degree of overall freedom in a society is significantly compromised.
She advocated for the necessity of obtaining a divorce without requiring any plausible reason and with minimal cost or no expense at all. In her pamphlet, she compared marriage to a contract and divorce to the end of that contract, a perspective which should involve a reduction of any possible transaction cost. It is worth noting that more than twenty-five years after the publication of Taylor Mill’s essay on divorce, the Matrimonial Causes Act (1857) still required women who filed for divorce to prove that their husband had subjected them to unfaithfulness, cruelty, rape, or incest. She wrote: “Would not the best plan be divorce which could be attained by any without any reason assigned, and at small expense?” (Taylor Mill 1832, 13). Furthermore, she insisted on the necessity of providing a good education to girls who often “enter into what is called a contract perfectly ignorant of the conditions of it” (ibid).
Taylor Mill’s arguments in favor of a significant transformation of the institution of marriage to promote women's liberty are the main themes of her lengthy essay, The Enfranchisement of Women.[3] Published in 1851, it represented a manifesto of classical liberalism against the doctrine of separate spheres. The pamphlet dealt not only with the possibility of extending suffrage to women, but also summed up the debate that occurred in the United States after the Seneca Falls Convention (1848).[4] Furthermore, it represented a plea for equality between women and men, regardless of gender, in the name of individual freedom. These arguments encompassed all the points that would later be developed by John Stuart Mill in his essays On Liberty (1859) and The Subjection of Women (1869).
Taylor Mill underlined the necessity of providing education for girls in primary and high schools, universities, medical, legal, and theological institutions. She advocated for achieving equal economic status between men and women and sharing equal responsibilities between men and women in the political arena at any level, from municipalities to the state, as well as in the judiciary and in legislative matters.
In her essay, Taylor Mill adopted a philosophical argument based on the notion of natural rights that “acknowledge no sex” by rhetorically wondering how it was possible to endorse the notion of liberty as an ‘inalienable’ right when women are forced to alienate it in favor of men. She targeted her specific attack against the doctrine of separate spheres in the apparatus of social norms and conventions which shaped a ‘caste’ system grounded on “the division of mankind into two castes, one born to rule over the other”. This, according to her, is “an unqualified mischief; a source of perversion and demoralization” for both men and women, preventing the prosperity of the society as a whole. In Taylor Mill’s vision, a society can prosper only if women are as free as men to pursue their abilities, skills, capacities, and knowledge.
In her words: “We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion, or any individual for another individual, what is and what is not their proper sphere”. The idea that the ‘proper sphere’ for women is the domestic was the result of  “great ignorance”, as “women have shown fitness for the highest social functions, exactly in proportion as they have been admitted to them” (Taylor Mill, 1851, 101).
According to Taylor Mill, the institution of marriage violated not only the individual freedom of women, but also the principle of private property that was regarded as a natural right. Married women were deprived of their own private assets in favor of their husbands. Marriage allowed men to act as rent-seekers, monopolizing power and wealth and preventing women from flourishing as free individuals. The combination of these two factors not only increased unfairness in society but also dramatically reduced the efficiency of social well-being.
In Victorian society, a threefold argument was adopted against women’s public roles: firstly, women’s commitment to the public sphere was regarded as incompatible with raising and taking care of children; secondly, women’s access to politics and the economy was believed to reduce men’s place in the public sphere; and thirdly, women should be protected from the perils of the public arena.
Taylor Mill attacked this threefold argument by pointing out that it was not solid. The focus on maternity as a primary task for women could not be applied to childless women. The vision of a dangerous public sphere not suitable for women was obsolete, as was the idea that women’s role in the public sphere would harm men’s well-being. Taylor Mill argued that the argument was driven by the fear that competition between men and women in the public sphere would dismantle men’s privileges, better understood as monopolies, which always harm the well-being of the society.
Taylor Mill pointed out that a lack of education often forced women to choose marriage because there was no way for them to flourish as individuals. Finally, she openly criticized the notion of family wage/income, i.e. a scenario where men and women earn together the same amount of salary as previously earned by men. Supporters of family wage pointed out that the well-being of a family is reduced as women are no longer full-time care providers yet there is no increase of family income. Against this vision, Taylor Mill claimed that although there may be no income difference for the family, an increase in well-being for women occurs, and consequently, the general level of well-being increases.
According to Taylor Mill, changing the traditional view of marriage would have allowed women to finally become partners rather than servants and to quit their role as “a mere appendage to a man”, “a part of the furniture of home—of the resting-place to which the man returned from business or pleasure” (Taylor Mill 107). Moreover, Taylor Mill underlined that marriage, as conceived in her time, allowed the man “to be a patriarch and a despot within four walls (…) rendering him domineering, exacting, self-worshipping, when not capriciously or brutally tyrannical” (Taylor Mill 1851, 109).
As mentioned earlier, Taylor Mill’s notion of individual liberty in relation to the subjection of women had a profound impact on John Stuart Mill’s book, The Subjection of Women (1869).
As Taylor Mill did, Mill pointed out the importance of women’s education as a tool to improve society as a whole. He was also in favor of women’s enfranchisement. Furthermore, he shared with her the notion of marriage as a free contract between free parties, equally educated. Inspired by Taylor Mill, in his The Subjection of Women Mill explored patriarchy and slavery as expressions of men’s power firmly rooted in a legal framework, political structures, and cultural pressure on gender and ethnicity, which reinforced inequality of women and slaves (Fobre 2009). According to Mill, legal barriers and social stigma prevented women from exercising their individual freedom, and he pointed out that the majority of women accepted their subjection and considered it natural. Women were enslaved, and they had been educated to cherish their subjection by insisting on “sentimentalities that it is their nature to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections”.
Furthermore, Mill shared Taylor Mill’s idea that marriage, often seen as the ultimate goal for women, was used as a means to make them servile, and their lack of education served as the primary tool to maintain their complete dependence on men, which he described as “foul rather than fair means”. The definition of marriage as 'one person in law' favored men while subjecting women to arbitrary authority. Mill went on to compare the despotism of the head of the family to political despotism. Like Taylor Mill, Mill argued that marriage should be viewed as a “voluntary association between two people”, a “partnership in business” where both partners share control and responsibilities equally. If marriage is understood in such terms, the family becomes “the real school of the virtues of freedom” and “a school of sympathy in equality” instead of being “a school of despotism and of obedience”.
Nonetheless, differently from his wife, J.S. Mill remained in favor of the traditional division of labor within the family, assuming a trade-off between marriage and work and by considering women more suitable to perform well in the private sphere. Mill’s main concern was that the entrance of women into the public sphere would lead to the commodification of domestic duties and child rearing, which he evidently feared as a harm to society. He wrote: “when a woman marries, it may in general be understood that she makes choice of the management of a household, and the bringing up of a family, as the first call upon her exertions, during as many years of her life as may be required for the purpose; and that she renounces, not all other objects and occupations, but all which are not consistent with the requirements of this.”
In doing so, he constrained his vision within the doctrine of the separate spheres. This passage did not align with Taylor Mill’s narrative, according to which women are entirely entitled to perform well in both the private and public spheres.
[1]  Some scholars underlined that the main difference between John Stuart and Harriet may be identified in their different priorities. While J.S. Mill was more interested in class than in gender, H. Taylor Mill always prioritized gender issues over class, in the British debate, or race, in the American debate on abolitionism (Moller Okin 1979; Gatens 1991).
[2] As retrieved on August 14, 2023 at:
[3] As retrieved on August 14, 2023 at:
[4] The debate went on at the Convention of Women (1850), and later more public meetings were held at Worcester in Massachusetts, under the name of a “Women’s Rights Convention”. Taylor Mill summarized the arguments adopted in these initial meetings.
Astell, M. (1700). Some Reflections Upon Marriage, Occasion'd by the Duke and Dutchess of Mazarine's Case; Which is Also Consider'd. London: Printed for John Nutt, near Stationers-Hall.
Folbre, N. (2009). Greed, Lust, and Gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gatens, M. (1991). Feminism and Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Martineau, H.  (1855). The Woman Question. In G. Yates (ed.) New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp: 81-83.
Mill, J.S. (1859). On Liberty. London: Parker.
Mill, J.S. (1869). The Subjection of Women. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.
Moller Okin, S. (1979). Women in the Western Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Montague, Mary (1721-1751 [1996]). The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. New York: Oxford University Press.
Taylor Mill, H. (1998). The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Taylor Mill, H. ([1851] 1994), Enfranchisement of Women. Originally published (anonymously) in: Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review. in A. Rossi (ed.). Essays on Sex Equality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 93-121.
Wollstonecraft, M. (1792 [1992]), A Vindication of the Rights of Men, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Response Essay “Freedom and Happiness”: Harriet Taylor Mill’s Political Philosophy (for Women and Men)

Giandomenica Becchio rightly notes that the themes of marriage and divorce were on-going in the writings of Harriet Taylor Mill, from one of her earliest exchanges with John Stuart Mill (their paired essays on the theme of marriage from 1833)[1] to discussion of divorce in On Liberty,[2] which she and Mill were working on together at the time of her death.[3] She was consistently a passionate defender of women’s right to have other options for security, self-respect, and subsistence aside from marriage, and for everyone’s right to no-fault, easily accessible, and cheap divorce.[4]
It is worth, though, noting that she also wrote about a wide range of other issues. I say this because it can be all too easy to look to female authors only for their ideas on issues predominantly affecting women, and to forget that, as Friedrich Hayek so rightly says of Taylor Mill, their experiences “by no means limit” their intellectual interests.[5] In Taylor Mill’s case, Hayek emphasises that her “rationalist revolt against the tyranny of public opinion” was not limited, or wholly attributable, to her own experiences as a clever, compassionate and conscientious woman who found herself falling in love with a man to whom she was not married, with no prospect of divorce. Indeed, in one of her earliest surviving manuscripts she wrote: “No government has the right to interfere with … personal freedom … Every human being has the right to all personal freedom which does not interfere with the happiness of some other”,[6] a phrase which strongly resembles one of the most famous elements of On Liberty – the “liberty” (or “harm”) principle which states: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a … community … is to prevent harm to others”.[7]
Indeed, recent stylometric analysis of On Liberty shows a considerable contribution by Taylor Mill in particular to the chapter “On Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being”.[8] It is not so much, as Becchio puts it, then, that Taylor Mill “inspired” Mill “in writing his well-known pamphlet The Subjection of Women, which represented the application of Mill’s classical liberal agenda, as described in his On Liberty, to the woman question”. Rather, Taylor Mill’s own complex theorising about liberty led her to co-author, with Mill, On Liberty – both this, and The Subjection of Women, he felt, only imperfectly represented her views, and would have been much better publications had she lived longer.[9]
This said, her earliest emphasis was certainly on how women were deprived of the chance to freely develop their individuality: “women … are entirely deprived of all those advantages of academical or university instruction[,] emulation & example which are open to all men,” she wrote in one of her earliest surviving manuscripts:
and what is much more important to the formation or development of individuality of character, the whole repute of their lives is made to depend on their utter exclusion from any source of knowledge or experience of the world – and the varieties of scene & of character which must be known and tried to give self-knowledge, and decision of mind.”[10]
Notably, these are virtues of “active” characters praised and championed in On Liberty,[11] but also virtues which women are deprived of by social mores governing marriage, marriageability, and social structures. This means marriage is almost a woman’s only option for economic and personal security.
This said, Taylor Mill was also very aware that marriage by no means guaranteed women physical security. Uniquely among contemporary feminists, she wrote a series of articles (with Mill) which highlighted the reality of domestic violence, and the supine, misogynist and deeply unjust nature of patriarchal courts, in which male judges and all-male juries rarely found in favour of women (when cases did come to court) or passed judgements which protected them.[12]
She had an unflinchingly realist attitude to the punishment of these crimes, writing a privately distributed pamphlet in 1853, in which she praised a bill recently brought to Parliament for the purpose of tackling domestic violence, but urging harsher penalties which would actually deter criminals.[13] Notably, this included corporal punishment because, notwithstanding that this was “justly odious as a punishment,” for all other crimes, it was nonetheless “peculiarly fitted for such cases” given “[i]t is probably the only punishment which they [i.e. the perpetrators] would feel”.[14]
Interestingly, Taylor Mill also noticed that women were capable of domestic violence, especially towards those rendered even weaker than themselves by structural, intersecting inequalities of class, sex, age and dependence caused by employment (especially domestic servants).[15] Although urging harsher punishment for crimes of personal violence on the grounds that mere imprisonment was not much of a punishment for poor people (given prison conditions were probably better than life outside, especially if not condemned to hard labour), she did not think domestic violence was something which only occurred in the “lower” classes, being very aware that it was perpetrated by both men and women “in that class known … by the name respectable”, including barristers and justices of the peace.[16]
In this, we see an interesting alliance in Taylor Mill’s work of theory and practical realities: her feminist critique of marriage and divorce is not merely philosophical, removed from reality, but neither is it wholly, or simply, informed by her own experience of marriage, motherhood, separation, and widowhood. Rather, empathy, compassion and a clear, unromantic eye gave her insight into the experience of many different women (and men), and the ways in which their character, behaviour and beliefs were unconsciously shaped by social structures, social mores, and social opinion – particularly those which governed sexual relations and marriage.
Mill recalled in his Autobiography that long before he met Taylor Mill, he was committed to perfect equality between the sexes. Rather than this being something he learned from her, “the strength” of his convictions “was … the originating cause of the interest she felt in me”.[17] However, this belief was (again, echoing On Liberty) “an abstract principle”:
that perception of the vast practical bearings of women’s disabilities which found expression in the book on The Subjection of Women, was acquired mainly through her teaching. But for her … I should have had a very insufficient perception of the mode in which the consequences of the inferior position of women intertwine themselves with all the evils of existing society and with all the difficulties of human improvement.
And it is, of course, that recognition of the invidious nature of sexual inequality as a “living truth,” in The Subjection of Women which makes it such a striking and important book, even to this day, despite changes to the law in most countries around marriage and divorce.[18]
Taylor Mill’s writing on domestic violence has somehow been used to argue that she was a masochist, feeding into an often negative assessment of her personality which, in turn, is used as an excuse not to study her seriously, or credit Mill’s account of their co-authorship as plausible.[19] But as Becchio rightly highlights in her essay, Taylor Mill “was a brilliant writer” and a thought-provoking and important philosopher in her own right as well as being “an influential figure in Mill’s life”. I would only emphasise that this was not only in regards to his feminism, but the arguments for which he remains most famous, those found in On Liberty which he described as “directly and literally our joint production”.[20]
[1] These essays are undated. Mill’s is written on paper watermarked 1831, and Taylor Mill’s on paper watermarked 1832, which led Hayek to suggest both were written in 1832. However, Mill also cites an opinion of Robert Owen’s, which he might have taken from an account of Owen’s speeches published in the United States in 1829, but was more probably taken from hearing Owen himself give a speech in London 1 May 1833. (For more on this, see J.M. Robson, Textual Introduction, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill XXI (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), lviii-lx.) Taylor Mill also quotes a poem by Alfred Tennyson which was not published until 14 May 1833. Mill’s editors, then, give a date of “1832-33?” but 1833 seems more plausible, perhaps even May/June 1833. (Certainly, it seems unlikely they wrote these essays after September 1833, when Taylor Mill separated from her husband and moved to live in Paris for a time.)
[2] Mill and Taylor Mill, On Liberty, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 300-301.
[3] Mill, Autobiography Collected Works of John Stuart Mill I (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981), 249.
[4] See Harriet Taylor Mill, Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1998), 17-25.
[5] Friedrich August Hayek, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Friendships and Subsequent Marriage (London: Routledge, 1951), 25-6.
[6] Taylor Mill, Complete Works, 19.
[7] Mill and Taylor Mill, On Liberty, 223.
[8] Christoph Schmidt-Petri, Michael Schefczyk and Lilly Osburg, “Who Authored On Liberty? Stylometric Evidence on Harriet Taylor Mill’s Contribution”, Utilitas 34/2 (2022), 120-138.
[9] Mill, Autobiography, 253-5.
[10] Taylor Mill, Complete Works, 5-6.
[11] Mill and Taylor Mill, On Liberty, 262-3.
[12] Ibid., 75-131.
[13] This is included in Mill’s Collected Works, but he noted “I acted chiefly as amanuensis to my wife” in producing it. (Mill, Collected Works XXI, 102).
[14] Taylor Mill, Complete Works, 126-9.
[15] Ibid., 10-11, 98-108 and 127.
[16] Ibid., 10-11 and 119-22.
[17] Mill, Autobiography, 253.
[18] In this, it is worth noting the similarities between manuscripts Taylor Mill wrote, but did not publish, around 1851, and Subjection of Women, published in 1869. On this, see also Helen McCabe, Harriet Taylor Mill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023), 33-4.
[19] See Jo Ellen Jacobs, “The Lot of Gifted Ladies is Hard”: A Study of Harriet Taylor Mill Criticism”, Hypatia 9/3 (1994), 132-62.
[20] Mill, Autobiography, 257.
Hayek. F. A. (2015). Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings, edited by Sandra J. Peart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jacobs, Jo Ellen (1998). The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill, ed. Jo Ellen Jacobs (Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Mill, John Stuart (1981). Autobiography and Literary Essays, edited by John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, vol. 1 of The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Packe, Michael St. John (1954). The Life of John Stuart Mill (1954). London: Secker and Warburg.
Peart, Sandra J. (2015). Editor’s Introduction to Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings, edited by Sandra J. Peart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. xix-l.
Robbins, Lionel (1998). A History of Economic Thought, edited by Steven G. Medema and Warren J. Samuels. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Response Essay Harriet Taylor’s Partnership with John Stuart Mill

In this essay I explore the “partnership” between Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill. As is well known, Harriet and John met when Harriet was still married to her first husband, John Taylor. They soon developed an intellectual, and romantic, relationship that lasted through several decades and cost them both dearly professionally and personally. Their correspondence and writings reveal a close working relationship, one that has been the subject of scrutiny and, at times, criticism, with some concluding that Mill came under the influence of the woman he eventually married and he was led astray by her supposedly more radical views.[1] Mill has consequently been castigated as unoriginal[2] and malleable, unable to resist Taylor’s sympathies with the French utopian socialists.
My view is contrary to much of the secondary literature. I take Mill at his word when he reports a partnership with the woman he eventually married, and I provide evidence in what follows that Mill’s views on marriage and divorce were evidently well developed in the essay he wrote, at Taylor’s request, in 1832 (or thereabouts). This essay was authored by Mill at Taylor’s request; while The Subjection of Women is appropriately identified by specialists such as Jo Ellen Jacobs as heavily influenced by his relationship with Taylor-Mill. Moreover, portions of Mill’s Principles of Political Economy and other works were, as he suggested “a joint production” with Taylor-Mill, as will become clear in what follows.
As Becchio notes, the story of Mill and Taylor-Mill is one of singular devotion in the face of intense social disapproval. Indeed, reactions to their unusual arrangement—the couple traveled extensively in Europe while Harriet was still married to the man who was much her senior, John Taylor—were damaging and extremely painful. Socialites in the beginning, they met at one of Taylor’s many soirées. Thomas and Jane Carlyle, Harriet Martineau, Eliza Flower, W. J. Fox, John Roebuck, George John Graham, and other notables were frequent guests.[3] Gossip soon became hurtful, with the Carlyles sniggering with other guests about the couple, labeling Taylor-Mill “Platonica” and making snide remarks in correspondence. One example will stand for many: To John Sterling, Carlyle wrote on 17 January 1837: “[John Mill’s] Platonica and he are constant as ever; innocent I do believe as sucking doves, and yet suffering the clack of tongues, worst penalty of guilt. It is very hard; and for Mill especially as unlucky as ever” (Hayek 2015, p. 80).
Even worse, Mill’s family shunned him, with his sister summing up the heart wrenching schism in a letter to Mill writing in 1851 (after Mill and Taylor-Mill married):
And now Good Bye. I have prayed that this letter may touch your heart for we do differ ‘as you observed’ in our opinions or rather say convictions, but this difference has not made me love you less, and in striving each day to become more Christian I feel that I shall love you more really …  P.S. If this should close all intercourse between us as I think possible it will be to me very painful, but at least the sting will be wanting of thinking that I have shrunk from the duty of honesty towards you (Hayek 2015, p. 171).
In the face of gossip, Mill and Taylor withdrew from the society that had once been a great source of intellectual stimulation. They spent much of the rest of their lives—with a brief exception when Taylor nursed John Taylor in the late stages of his illness—together, in isolation.
Notwithstanding the isolation imposed by their relationship, however, they were extremely productive, and this is where I part company from much that has been written about the couple. For while some commentators have suggested that Harriet is responsible for his views on marriage, divorce, female labor force participation, and socialism, I maintain by contrast that Mill’s views on women, divorce, and so on were fully formed in advance of their lasting relationship.
Several sources support my reading. First, we have Mill’s own testimony in his Autobiography:
It might be supposed, for instance, that my strong convictions on the complete equality in all legal, political, social and domestic relations, which ought to exist between men and women, may have been adopted or learnt from her. This was so far from being the fact, that those convictions were among the earliest results of the applications of my mind to political subjects, and the strength which I held them was, as I believe, more than anything else, the originating cause of the interest she felt in me (Mill 1981, p. 253 note).
Of course, one might counter that Mill misremembered or downplayed Taylor-Mill’s influence in this passage. The essay mentioned at the outset, however, provides additional and incontrovertible evidence that Mill came down in favor of equality as early as 1831-32. The original of the essay in question is situated in the Mill-Taylor Collection of the British Library of Political and Economic Science at the London School of Economics. There, as noted by F. A. Hayek (p. 58), it is catalogued as a “Paper on woman’s position in society.” It is reproduced in full in Hayek (2015), pp. 58-72.
Mill begins the essay by stating that he was asked by Taylor to write it. He continues to make the statements mentioned by Becchio, “a woman [wa]s at all dependent for her social position upon the fact of her being or not being married” (Hayek 2015, p. 61), a “single woman is felt both by herself and others as a kind of excrescence on the surface of society” (p. 62), and “her life is considered a failure” (p. 65). Mill also referred to women as “merely slaves” and their husbands as “masters” (p. 69) and he attributed the problems faced by women to the “indissolutability of marriage (p. 60).” The problem, he maintained, was deeper than that of marriage arrangements:
[T]he truth is, that this question of marriage cannot properly be considered by itself alone. The question is not what marriage ought to be, but a far wider question, what woman ought to be. Settle that first, and the other will settle itself. Determine whether marriage is to be a relation between two equal beings, or between a superior and an inferior, between a protector and a dependent; and all other doubts will easily be resulted. But in this question there is surely no difficulty. There is no natural inequality between the sexes (p. 62).
The remedy in Mill’s view, unsurprisingly, was education: “The first and indispensable step, therefore, towards the enfranchisement of woman, is that she be so educated, as not to be dependent either on her father or her husband for subsistence” (Hayek 2015, p. 63).
Thus, much of what Mill wrote to Taylor in about 1832 is fully in line with Taylor’s own essay of about the same time, published in Jacobs (1998) and discussed by Becchio. As Becchio notes, Taylor-Mill also favored education as one means to remedying the situation in which women were held essentially beholden to men. Taylor insisted that the education of mothers was particularly important “when we consider that in their education is included that of their sons and daughters and therefore of the whole community…”.[4] Both essays, moreover, are essentially in line with the 1869 essay, The Subjection of Women, although, as Becchio writes, The Subjection of Women reveals some differences between Mill and his wife.
As further evidence of my claim that theirs was a partnership in which they shared ideas and co-wrote passages, one might consider the similarities between Taylor’s 1832 essay, “Sources of Conformity,” also republished in Hayek (2015).[5] Hayek notes the wording in Taylor’s “Sources of Conformity” is strikingly like Mill’s chapter 3 of On Liberty. Beginning in the 1840s, they co-authored a series of newspaper articles on violence and domestic abuse.[6] Finally, the correspondence between Mill and Taylor-Mill related to Mill’s Principles of Political Economy is filled with detailed discussion of passages that the couple worked on together, as equals, in search of wording that represented consensus. In the correspondence, we find Taylor-Mill and Mill struggling to obtain the wording that would be acceptable to both regarding the potential viability of proposed socialist experiments. David Levy examines Taylor-Mill’s contributions to Mill’s Principles in his contribution to this series.
None of this is to suggest that Taylor-Mill’s ideas were unoriginal. Quite the contrary. Writing at a time when institutional arrangements ensured that women were dependent on men for their very livelihood, she was a strong intellectual partner to Mill. Both with him and in her own published works, she made important contributions to the discussion of institutional reforms required to enable women to succeed and thrive. Her ideas were, in a reversal of the statement quoted above from Mill’s Autobiography, “the originating cause of the interest” he felt in her, and deeply important to the evolution of his thought. More generally, hers was a clarion voice for egalitarian political and economic thought.
[1] Packe (1954) writes of “Harriet’s astounding, almost hypnotic control of Mill’s mind was not confined to reversing the direction of his economic theory. She extended it to other branches of his thought” including Mill’s views on women’s participation in the labor market (Packe, p. 315).
[2] Robbins (1998) described “the anti-Mill myth, which persisted in my young days, and which was not only held by Edwin Cannon, but all sorts of other people in my sphere of work, used to swell upon the fact that Mill was not original” (Robbins, p. 225). For more detail, see Sandra J. Peart (2015), p. xxiv.
[3] The most complete account of Mill and Taylor’s meeting and early acquaintance is given by Hayek (2015, pp. 36-72). Peart (2015) provides biographical details on Mill’s circle of friends.
[4] “The Education of Mothers”, circa 1832, published in Taylor-Mill’s Complete Works, edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs (1998), pp. 7-8.
[5] The essay is published in Taylor-Mill’s Complete Works, 137-42 and in Hayek (2015), pp. 264-69.
[6] These are republished in Taylor-Mill’s Complete Works, edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs, pp. 77-131.

Response Essay Harriet Taylor Mill and the Response to the “Theory of Dependence”

I welcome the opportunity to comment on Giandonenica Becchio’s contribution to the discussion of the enduring importance of Harriet Taylor Mill. Before I consider the substantive issues, let me address how we came to appreciate Taylor Mill’s importance to our understanding of the social relationships of women and men then and ask what we can learn from this? The answer to the first part of the question is trivial: F. A. Hayek’s great 1951 John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Friendship [Correspondence] and Subsequent Marriage explored correspondence between John Stuart Mill and Taylor as well as the accounts of contemporary witnesses. The principle that events are seen more clearly when they are closer than when they are distant is exemplified in Hayek’s book. We have yet to understand the consequence of the economics’ professions abandonment of competence in the history of economics where, as Peart (2015) documents in detail, such great scholars of diverse points of view as Hayek, Piero Sraffa and John Maynard Keynes could cooperate in the search for unpublished material to gain greater insight into the making of economics.
Taylor Mill’s contribution to the third edition [1852] of J. S. Mill’s Principles of Political Economy needs to be examined closely to appreciate her part in the larger question of the role of economists in the movement toward equalizing the rights of women and other “dependents.” In the fourth paragraph in the chapter Taylor Mill’s contributed to Principles of Political Economy, “On the probable futurity of the labouring classes,” we find an articulation of the “theory of dependence” of the laboring class that was advanced by speakers for the upper classes:
… the lot of the poor, in all things which affect them collectively, should be regulated for them, not by them. They should not be required or encouraged to think for themselves … It is supposed to be the duty of the higher classes to think for them, and to take the responsibility of their lot … (Taylor Mill, 1998, p. 293)
This theory of dependence is the target of the chapter. It would not be hard to find the theory of dependence in many dimensions defended in her time. Dramatically, just three years earlier Thomas Carlyle had published in Fraser’s Magazine his “Occasional discourse on the negro question” ([Carlyle] 1849); Mill had responded in the next issue ([Mill] 1850). I’ll come back to Fraser’s.
In the last paragraph of the Taylor Mill chapter, we find perhaps the greatest defense of competition in the economics literature.
Instead of looking upon competition as the baneful and anti-social principle which it is held to be by the generality of Socialists, I conceive that, even in the present state of society and industry, every restriction of it is an evil, and every extension of it, even if for the time injuriously affecting some class of labourer, is always an ultimate good. (Taylor Mill, 1998, p. 315)
One passage in the chapter, in particular, that should not be overlooked is a reference to a caste system when Taylor Mill proposes “the opening of industrial occupations freely to both sexes.” (1998, p. 298). Concerns over a caste system are scattered in the work of Adam Smith, Montiford Longfield, J. S. Mill himself, as well as J. E. Cairnes so it is important to add Taylor Mill to that tradition since she widens the analysis to include women who face occupational limitations.
The ideas of institutions by which the accidence of sex is made the groundwork of an inequality of legal rights, and a forced dissimilarity of social functions, must ere long be recognized as the great hindrance to moral, social, and even intellectual improvements (1998, p 299)
Carlyle’s 1849 “Negro question” was not the first time Fraser’s Magazine articulated a theory of dependence as an idealization of social hierarchy. Fraser’s came into prominence in the early 1830s with a series entitled, “Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters” featuring drawing by Daniel Maclise and “Notices” largely by William Maginn.  There were three named political economists included in the “Gallery,” Harriet Martineau, William Godwin, Francis Place. Each was subjected to ideological and personal attacks because each of the three had contributed to a rethinking of the relations of women and men. The attacks, albeit nasty, were very well informed.[1]
I now turn to what I consider an unfortunate consequence of the Mill – Taylor friendship. One of the most important issues raised by J. S. Mill in Principles of Political Economics is the distinction between the laws of production and the laws of distribution. Although Mill’s position has been often misunderstood, Sandra Peart (2015, p. xli) quotes a passage that is unambiguous and ought to have been decisive:
Human beings can control their own acts, but not the consequences of their acts either to themselves or to others. Society can subject the distribution of wealth to whatever rules it thinks best: but what practical results will flow from the operation of those rules, must be discovered, like any other physical or mental truths, by observation and reasoning. (Mill 1965, p. 200).
I take property and the legal rights defining property as an aspect of distribution that Mill’s distinction encompassed. The issue of marriage as contract that turned it into monopolizing property was stated with complete clarity by William Godwin:
Add to this, that marriage is an affair of property, and the worst of all properties. So long as two human beings are forbidden by positive institutions to follow the dictates of their own mind, prejudice is alive and vigorous. So long as I seek to engross one woman to myself, and to prohibit my neighbour from proving his superior desert and reaping the fruits of it, I am guilty of the most odious of all monopolies. (1793, p. 850)
This was, of course, written some years before Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft married. That event doubtless had something to do with Godwin’s changes in the third edition of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.
Contracts can be enforced by approbation, both positive and negative, as well as positive law. Disapprobation can be carried by gossip. Hayek’s work made clear the disapprobation that the Mill-Taylor connection generated and how it devastated the relationships in Mill’s immediate family.  Hayek pointed out that Alexander Bain recorded that Martineau was one of the first to spread the news of Mill and Taylor’s close connection, but Bain declined to pass on just what Martineau said (Hayek 2105, p. 36).
Martineau’s views of gender equality that Becchio mentions, have earned her a considerable collection of scholarly admirers so as a consequence we now have more access to her correspondence than Hayek had.  Martineau’s letters to her brother James Martineau, which he recorded in a code, were first utilized by R. K. Webb (1960) and published in full in 2012 (Logan 2012, pp. 383-517). From a letter of January 2, 1834, we learn of the coming cohabitation of Taylor and Mill
Mr. F.’s [Charles Fox] alienation from his wife, and widening dependence on E. F. [Eliza Flower] ruinous to her position, as it is selfish and inconsiderate in him, having at last a scandalous excess. The coincidence of this with Mrs. J. T.’s [Harriet Taylor] abandonment of her husband to live in Paris, making her mind to live with J.S.M. [John Stuart Mill] gives it a serious character and dangerous publicity which bodes nothing but evil. Mrs. J. T. takes no care of her three little children, excusing herself because “she has no faculty of patience.”  Logan (2012, p. 475).
The correspondence of Harriet and James Martineau sheds light on something puzzling; why despite her great competence as an economist Martineau has been so unappreciated (Levy and Peart 2022, 2023).
In Harriet Martineau’s letter to James of February 27, 1832 (Logan 2012, 460) she writes of a review of the first volume of her Illustrations of Political Economy by “J S Mill.” I suspect it is actually by James Mill. The author of the 1832 review starts by discussing why one could do economic science, unlike other sciences, as a tale. This I find to be compelling evidence of James Mill’s authorship, in spite of Martineau’s opinion in her letter, because the reviewer would be directly responding to James Mill's early objection he voiced to Martineau about the concept of her book saying that science cannot be done in tales (Levy and Peart 2022). Then the reviewer considers the tale itself.
In Life in the Wilds we are introduced into a small colony in the south of Africa, which has, by an incursion of savages, just been deprived of every vestige of capital. There is nothing but nature before them; and in their possession nothing but their own labour, unassisted by any of the contrivances of civilization or the accumulations of wealth. Life in the Wilds is the history of this small society; and the genius of the writer (already favorably known by her Traditions of Palestine) has enabled her to describe their proceedings with the interest of a simple romance. We have character, incident, scenery, while we forget we are learning the whole theory of labour, productive and unproductive: and through imbibing instruction on every page, fancy merely we are sympathizing in the misfortunes, and rejoicing in the prosperity of a remote and friendless community of compatriots, placed far amid the melancholy plains of the South African continent.
There was good reason for Martineau to be pleased with the review. It is a public retraction of James Mill’s previous objection to the book. And, as long as one assumes a Ricardian view of capital, totally accurate.  There is of course knowledge in Life in the Wilds, which for Adam Smith, who provided the basis for the Illustrations, would have counted as capital.
The 1834 review by J. S. Mill, included in the Collected Works is fascinating and invariably discussed by students of Martineau who seem not to know what I take to be James Mill’s review.[2]
Her object was, not to exhibit the science as a whole, but to illustrate such parts of as lead directly to important practical results. Having accomplished this, she has now brought together in one series, the principles which she had separately exemplified, and by hanging them each in its place. Has given to the “moral” of her “many Fables,” some semblance of an elementary treatise. It would be unjust to weigh this little work in a balance in which the most elaborate treatises on the subject would be found wanting. To all of them, perhaps, it may be objected, that they attempt to construct a permanent fabric out of transitory materials; … Thus, for instance English political economists presuppose, in every one of their speculations, that the product of industry is shared among three classes, altogether distinct from one another—namely, labourers, capitalists and landlords. … They are inapplicable where the only capitalist are the landlords and the labourers are their property, as it is in the West Indies.….
Miss Martineau’s little work is not more subject to the above criticism than works of far greater pretension; but on the contrary, less. And as an exposition of the leading principles of what now constitutes the science, it possesses considerable merit. Mill (1965, p. 226 emphasis added)
It seems clear that Mill is thinking about the distinction between the “laws of production” and the “laws of distribution” as even at this early date when he blames political economists for confusing transitory institutions for permanent ones. Moreover, a phrase he uses would reappear many years later when in 1874 Some Leading Principles of Political Economy became the title of the last great treatise of English classical political economy by Mill’s great admirer, J. E. Cairnes!
The problem with the review is that Martineau is not “less subject to the above criticism.” The criticism is directed at a book she did not write nor is it the same book discussed by the earlier review.  In Life in the Wilds, there is no capital so there are no capitalists. More importantly, the fourth tale of Martineau’s Illustrations is a novel of slavery set in the West Indies in which she considerably improves upon Adam Smith’s account of slavery by allowing enslaved people to be paid piece wages (Levy and Peart 2022, 2023). The importance of this might be appreciated because in Taylor Mill’s chapter in Principles, the importance of linking wages to output, documented by Charles Babbage, is stressed (Taylor Mill, 1998, pp. 302-03)
Taylor Mill considerably sharpened the response in Principles to the multidimensional hierarchism of the period.  It has not been appreciated how her attack on the dependence thesis would remerge in the first half of the 20th century in the attack on paternalism by Abram Harris and Frank Knight. Harris was a very careful student of Mill.Endnotes
[1] The commentary on Francis Place penetrated the disguised authorship (“Gamaliel Smith”) of the Jeremy Bentham – Francis Place Not Paul but Jesus (1823).  William Bates’ edition of the Gallery (Maclise and Maginn 1873) is easily accessible with an image quality far superior to even the original publication and of course to online scanned reproductions of magazines.
[2] Webb (1960), who only knows J. S. Mill’s review (Mill 1967), and emphasize its judgment, is particularly important as he was the first to systematically explore Martineau’s correspondence with her brother.  In Logan’s edition of Illustrations of Political Economy (2004, pp. 430-31) part of J. S. Mill’s review is republished; the earlier review is not noted.
[Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place = “Gamaliel Smith”]. 1823. Not Paul, but Jesus. London: John Hurt.
[Carlyle, T.] 1849. “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 40 (December): 670–679.
Godwin, William. 1793.  An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. London: G. J. and J. Robinson.
Hayek, F. A. 2015, Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings. Edited by Sandra J. Peart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levy, David M. and Sandra J. Peart. 2022. “Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)” In The Essential Women of Liberty Edited by Donald J. Boudreaux and Aeon J. Skoble. Vancouver: Fraser Institute.
Levy, David M. and Sandra J. Peart. 2023. “Harriet Martineau: Economist as Storyteller and Traveler.” Independent Review
Logan, Deborah A. 2012. Harriet Martineau: Further Letters. Bethlehem: PA. Lehigh University Press.
Maclise, Daniel and William Maginn. 1873. A Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters (1830-1838). Edited by William Bates. London: Chatto and Windus.
Martineau, Harriet. 2004. Illustrations of Political Economy: Selected Tales. Somewhere in Canada: Broadview editions.
[Mill, James ?.] Feb 26, 1832. Review of Illustrations of Political Economy: No. I. Life in the Wilds: a Tale. By Harriet Martineau. London: C. Fox. Examiner Issue 1256 Sunday.
[Mill, John Stuart] 1850. “The Negro Question.” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 41 (January): 25–31.
Mill, John Stuart. 1965. Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy. Edited by J. Robson. Volumes 2 and 3 of the Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Mill, John Stuart. 1967. “Miss Martineau’s Summary of Political Economy” Essays on Economics and Society. Edited by J. M. Robson. Volumes 4 and 5 of the Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 225-228.
Taylor Mill, Harriet. 1998. The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill. Edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs and Paula Harms Payne. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press.
Webb, R. K. 1960. Harriet Martineau: A Radical Victorian. New York: Columbia University Press.

Conversation Comments The “Conversation”: A Rejoinder to McCabe, Levy, and Peart

Thanks so much to Helen McCabe, Sandra Peart, and David Levy for their insightful comments on my lead essay concerning Harriet Taylor Mill’s ideas and writings on marriage and divorce. Their contributions have illuminated many additional aspects of Taylor Mill’s scholarly work and the whole discussion sheds light on Taylor Mill's pivotal role within the network of early feminists who were also classical liberal scholars.
Before delving into my specific rejoinder, I would like to address a philological issue that arose in a side discussion, aptly noted by Levy who observed that in my lead essay, I stated that in 1832, Taylor Mill co-authored a pamphlet specifically on marriage and divorce with her husband John Stuart Mill (Taylor Mill and Mill, 1832).[1] As is well-known, it was Friedrich Hayek who published writings of Mill and Taylor Mill, along with their correspondence, and compiled them into the volume John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Friendship and Subsequent Marriage (1951). Likely influenced by the opening lines of the essay, which read “She to whom my life is devoted has wished for written exposition of my opinions on the subject...”, Hayek attributed that essay solely to Mill.
That pamphlet was later reprinted in the volume Essays on Sex Equality (1970), edited by Alice S. Rossi, who attributed the writing to both Taylor Mill and Mill. Finally, it was included in the XXI volume of Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, edited by John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger (1981),[2] who, like Hayek, attributed the essay solely to Mill.
This issue has been the subject of intense discussions among historians of political thought, feminist philosophers, and scholars of Mill’s work, raising crucial historical and methodological questions. Firstly, Hayek’s role as an editor has been viewed as problematic by some, as he occasionally made alterations to the texts. For example, in Taylor Mill’s essay On Marriage (1832-1833, in Hayek 1951, 75-78), he replaced the word ‘sex’ with ‘love’.[3] Secondly, and more importantly, during the Mills’ time, social pressure and gender stereotypes often discouraged women from taking an active role as writers in the public intellectual sphere. As a result, many female writers, with some notable exceptions, either used pseudonyms or initials or, in some cases, expressed their ideas under their husband’s name (Becchio 2020). Harriet’s marital status with Taylor and her relationship with Mill being out of wedlock may have prevented them from co-signing the pamphlet. As Peart pointed out, friends and family from both sides tended to blame the newly formed couple, pressuring them to choose a life of isolation, which in turn strengthened their mutual commitment to promoting individual freedom regardless of gender.
In spite of their almost symbiotic intellectual connection, I fully concur with Peart’s observation regarding the originality of both Taylor Mill and Mill and the acknowledgment that Mill never diminished Taylor Mill’s intellectual contributions. Similarly, Taylor Mill did not compel Mill toward more radical political positions. Instead, they both emphasized the fundamental role of education in making individual liberty non-negotiable within a just society.
Related to the notion of freedom, I am grateful to McCabe for highlighting the significance of Taylor Mill’s contribution beyond the realm of gender equality, recognizing her as a defender of individuality and liberty against the ‘tyranny of public dominion’, a pivotal argument developed by Mill in his work On Liberty. Furthermore, Taylor Mill’s analysis and critique of the contemporary state of marriage and divorce during her time extended beyond mere autobiographical reflection. Instead, it encompassed a more elaborate defense of the dignity of individuals, often compelled to confront domestic violence, as both McCabe and Peart have emphasized.
Taylor Mill was not the sole female writer of her time to point out and condemn domestic abuses. For instance, in Olympe de Gouges’ comedy The Necessity of Divorce (1790 in Bergès 2022), which was never staged, she emphasized the importance of making divorce easily accessible, particularly to address the issue of violent relationships between married couples. Similarly, in her pamphlet A Letter to the Women of England, on the Injustice of Mental Subordination. With Anecdotes (1799), Anne Frances Randall questioned why women were condemned to endure the burdens of domestic life, including abuse and violence, while being entirely dependent on their husbands, whereas men were free to oppress their wives without facing any form of social stigma.
Finally, Levy aptly emphasized Taylor Mill’s contribution to Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, particularly in advocating for competition against any form of market discrimination. He also highlighted that their shared idea that traditional marriage, coupled with the practical impossibility of divorce, could be likened to a form of monopoly, as previously articulated by William Godwin. On a related note, we can add that the economic inefficiency of traditional marriage, rooted in gendered stereotypes perpetuated through education, was previously discussed by Mary Wollstonecraft, who viewed it as a waste of resources hindering societal prosperity. Similarly, Harriet Martineau regarded traditional marriage as an imperfect contract between a stronger and weaker partner. As she wrote:
[A] married woman is treated as the inferior party in a compact in which both parties have an equal interest. Any agreement thus formed is imperfect and liable to disturbance, and the danger is great in proportion to the degradation of the supposed weaker party (Martineau 1838, 61).
Harriet Taylor Mill belonged to the generation of early feminist scholars of the time who, in the name of classical liberal principles, fought against the relegation of women to the private/domestic sphere. These scholars primarily analyzed the institution of marriage (and divorce), which traditionally reinforced, on one side, the subjection of women into matrimony as the sole means of gaining social status, and on the other side, the power of men in the public sphere, where they monopolized all forms of wealth, commonly denoted as patrimony. It is noteworthy that the words ‘matrimony’ and ‘patrimony’ are rooted in the Latin ‘mater’ (mother) and ‘pater’ (father), serving as linguistic symbols of a specific gendered power relation between men and women (Becchio 2024).
Becchio, G. (2020). A History of Feminist and Gender Economics. New York, London: Routledge.
Becchio, G. (2024). The Doctrine of the Separate Spheres in Political Economy and Economics. Palgrave Macmillan – Springer.
Bergès, S. (2022). Olympe de Gouges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hayek, F. (1951). John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Friendship and Subsequent Marriage. London: Routledge.
Martineau, H. (1838 [1985]). On Marriage (G. Yates, Ed., pp. 58–65). New Brunswick, NJ: New Rutgers University Press.
Mill, J.S. (1981). The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays, John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger (eds.). London: Routledge.
Mill, J.S. and Taylor Mill, H. (1970) Essays on Sex Equality. Alice Rossi (ed.). Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Randall, A. F. (1799). A Letter to the Women of England, on the Injustice of Mental Subordination. With Anecdotes. London: T.N. Longman, and O. Rees.
Taylor Mill, H. (1998). The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Conversation Comments Emphasising the “Originality” of Harriet Taylor-Mill Mill

In her contribution to this interesting debate, Sandra J. Peart rightly emphasises that John Stuart Mill’s feminism was well-formed and deep-rooted, even before he met Harriet Taylor-Mill, and that this, as he notes in his Autobiography, is the cause of her initially being attracted to him. I particularly appreciated the way Peart also turned this round at the end of her essay: it was Taylor-Mill’s well-developed views on a range of topics, and her “originality” as a thinker, which was a significant element of her attractiveness to Mill. Mill continued to emphasise this throughout his life, particularly when charting all the different ways in which they had collaborated on a range of articles (including via generating a “pool of ideas” on which he drew even after her death, notably – as Peart rightly reminds us– in The Subjection of Women) (Mill (1981), 251-5).
In many respects, he saw himself as the “interpreter” of Taylor-Mill’s original ideas. “[T]he most valuable ideas” of their “joint productions”, he said,
those which have been most fruitful of important results, and have contributed most to the success and reputation of the works themselves – originated with her; were emanations from her mind, my part in them being no greater than in any of the thoughts which I found in previous writers, and made my own only by incorporating them with my own system of thought.
Indeed, this was what Mill thought was his own great strength – being “an interpreter of original thinkers, and mediator between them and the public.” He had, he says, “always a humble opinion of my own powers as an original thinker” except in “abstract science” (by which he mainly meant what we now call philosophy, as well as the more theoretical elements of politics and economics). However, he:
thought myself much superior to most of my contemporaries in willingness and ability to learn from everybody; as I found hardly any one who made such a point of examining what was said in defence of all opinions, however new or however old, in the conviction that even if they were errors there might be a substratum of truth underneath them, and that in any case the discovery of what it was that made them plausible, would be beneficial to the truth. I had, in consequences, marked out this as a spere of usefulness in which I was under a special obligation to make myself active.
I noted in my earlier essay that one area of this originality was Taylor-Mill’s defence of individuality. In this passage, though, we also see Mill’s long-standing commitment to one of the other core claims in On Liberty: his rationale for free speech. In particular, we see the Mill’s fundamental commitment to the idea that, as most opinions are (at best) “partially true”, free discussion helps us to see what is true and what is false – and that even falsehoods should not (prima facie at least) be censored, because there is always benefit to be gained from examining falsehood and understanding why it is false (not least to save “living” truths from becoming “dead” and meaningless, a mere “shell and husk”) (Mill, 1977, 243-8).
David Levy also rightly notes Taylor-Mill’s input in The Principles of Political Economy. Mill’s account of their co-construction of that text, and particularly the chapter on “the probably futurity of the labouring classes” shows that Taylor-Mill was indeed responsible for the clarity by which the dichotomy facing contemporary society is presented: a choice between working people being dependent, or being independent. It should not be surprising, given what we already know of her defence of individuality and both her and Mill’s strong anti-paternalism, that they both supported “independence”. This had far-reaching implications, particularly for the organisation of work via work-place democracy, and “associations of the labourers among themselves”. (On this, see also McCabe 2021 and Baum 1999).
The full extent of the potential consequences for supporting the independence of working people was something Mill and Taylor-Mill could glean because they saw all institutions (including private property) as “merely provisional” (Mill, 1981, 241), something which is closely related to their view (as noted by Levy) that the laws of distribution were malleable, and could be changed by human endeavour. (On this, see also McCabe, 2021, 29-34.) They considered “[t]he social problem of the future … to be, how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour” (ibid. 239). They made no prescriptions for what “ideal” institutions would actually look like, or how soon they might be achieved, given the necessary changes which must also occur in the character of members of all classes.
Indeed, the need to change character (and the invidious impact of social institutions on character) is a key theme in both Mill and Taylor-Mill’s work, including their writing on marriage and divorce. Mill described the nuclear, patriarchal family as “the citadel of the enemy” which would need to be “attacked” before women could really be free and equal citizens (Mill, 1984, 325). As Peart and Becchio rightly note, much of Mill and Taylor-Mill’s answer lay in education, but they also noted the need for institutional reform, and as public campaigners both Mill and Taylor-Mill’s daughter Helen Taylor-Mill were active in trying to achieve both.
In her original essay which prompted this stimulating conversation, Becchio rightly highlighted Taylor-Mill’s insistence on the important of women working (and earning money outside the home) in undermining the existing power-balance in marriage, and establishing women (and men) on a more equal footing, something which has not yet been achieved, given stark gender pay gaps even in the most developed countries. Nor have we really achieved a state of being where women are seen as fully independent and worth-while moral beings, and not as “a mere appendage to a man”, even if we are allowed more scope for our activities than to only be “a part of the furniture of the home”. Increasing understanding of women’s role in doing emotional labour (in the home and outside) shows that women are, though, still expected by society to provide “a resting-place” for men “returned from business or pleasure” (Taylor-Mill, 1998, 107).
Taylor-Mill’s feminism, as well as her thinking around political and economic freedom, all still mark Taylor-Mill out as an “original” thinker. We ought not to underestimate her role in works we usually think of as being “Mill’s”, and take him seriously when he ascribed a series of roles to her, not least as the generator of “original” ideas which he “mediated” to the public in a variety of ways, from theoretical works through to on-the-ground activism.
Baum, Bruce. 1999. “J.S. Mill’s Conception of Economic Freedom”. History of Political Thought. 20/3: 494-530.
McCabe, Helen. 2021. John Stuart Mill, Socialist. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.
Mill, John Stuart. 1981. Autobiography in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill edited by J.M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Mill, John Stuart, 1977. On Liberty in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill edited by J.M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Mill, John Stuart. 1984. Subjection of Women in in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill edited by J.M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Taylor-Mill, Harriet. 1998. Complete Works of Harriet Taylor-Mill Mill edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Conversation Comments The ongoing relevance of Harriet Taylor Mill

It is a delight to continue the conversation regarding Harriet Taylor Mill’s originality and the substance of her ideas regarding the equality of men and women. In this brief comment, I focus on three themes that warrant additional attention. First, I add to the question of the malleability (and potential improvement) of institutions and what might be termed “character.” Second, I turn to the question of individuality in Taylor Mill’s early essay on conformity. And finally, I turn to the issue of freedom of expression and choice.
Are people capable of improving themselves?[1] Most of the political economists and public commentators of the nineteenth century were preoccupied with this question. It underscored debates about whether the lot of the labouring classes might be improved, whether women were suited—or might become so—to entering the labour market, or whether former slaves would eventually become full participants in the social and economic fabric of their time. Giandomenica Becchio stresses that Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill both advocated for education to prepare women for life outside the home in the coming democratic world. Helen McCabe suggests that Taylor Mill, like her husband J. S. Mill, regarded the laws of distribution (of income) as “malleable,” subject to human alteration. As she and David Levy have noted, political economists of the time wrote frequently about institutional change, with J. S. Mill opining that while we can alter the institutional structure of our time, moving perhaps from a sort of capitalism to a form of socialism, there would be attendant consequences, that we are unable to control, from doing so.[2]
Would education change outcomes, or might it do more and alter people’s very being, their character? In her follow up comment, McCabe emphasizes that Harriet Taylor Mill recognized “the need to change character” to achieve social change. Indeed, Taylor Mill’s most famous essay, The Enfranchisement of Women, published in the Westminster Review in 1851, is replete with statements about how the subjugation of women degraded the character of both men and women (an argument J. S. Mill would repeat in his The Subjection of Women), and how character change would follow a change in institutions that offered women the same legal rights as men. Taylor Mill wrote that “The mental companionship which is most improving, is communion between active minds, not mere contact between an active mind and a passive” (Taylor Mill, p. 66) and “Thus, the position is corrupting equally to both; in the one it produces the vices of power, in the other those of artifice” (ibid., p. 68). In her view, a change in social institutions to offer economic and legal equality to women, would (eventually) reverse this terrible result.
As noted in my first contribution to this series, Taylor Mill also railed against social norms that enforced conformity, kept women (and others) dependent, and thus prevented social improvement. In her 1831 essay she opined that “The root of all intolerance, the spirit of conformity, remains; and not until that is destroyed, will envy hatred and all uncharitableness, with their attendant hypocrisies, be destroyed too” (Taylor Mill, 1998, p. 137). Taylor regarded the spirit of conformity as the imposition of moral judgment: “What is called the opinion of Society is a phantom power, … It is a combination of the many weak, against the few strong; an association of the mentally listless to punish any manifestation of mental independence” whose remedy was, in her view, to strengthen the independence of those on whom judgment is passed: “to make all strong enough to stand alone; and whoever has once known the pleasure of self-dependance, with be in no danger of relapsing into subserviency” (ibid., p. 138). As I noted in my previous essay, J. S. Mill also struggled against forced conformity, as he made clear in On Liberty.
And so we come to freedom of choice and expression. Becchio correctly recognizes that Taylor Mill and J. S. Mill stressed how important it is for women to have choice in the marriage decision. McCabe emphasizes that J. S. Mill defended freedom of expression as an antidote to mistaken choice. In his 1843 Logic, J. S. Mill recognized that people are subject to wishful thinking, believing things to be true and we tend to confirm our priors. He wrote that people are prone to what we would, today, call confirmation bias; they “look out eagerly for reasons, or apparent reasons, to support opinions which are conformable to [their] interests or feelings” (Mill, 1843, p. 738) and the expression of ideas freely is one antidote to this bias.  More than this, he offered a superb explanation for the importance of freedom of choice in On Liberty, where he insisted that we learn how to choose only by choosing and he predicted that women and grown children who are paternalistically kept from making choices will most certainly make poor choices, if allowed to do so without any previous experience. It would be well for today’s helicopter parents to read their Mills; indeed, it would be well for all of us to read both Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill!
Hollander, Samuel. 1985. The Economics of John Stuart Mill. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Harriet Taylor Mill. 1998. The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill. Edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Mill, John Stuart. 1843. A System of Logic Ratiocinative and inductive. Vols. 7 and 8 of The Collective Works of John Stuart Mill. Edited by John M. Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1974.

Conversation Comments Against Paternalism..

This discussion has helped me focus on two questions. First, why has Harriet Taylor Mill’s contribution to John Stuart Mill’s economics been disparaged for so long? Second, why has Mill’s contribution to economics been so disparaged? It might be helpful to consider them together.  As Sandra Peart pointed out in her initial contribution, Lionel Robbins acknowledged that the economists at his London School of Economics were bad actors in the myth of Mill’s unoriginality.  George Stigler, who shattered this myth in a 1955 article published in the London School of Economics journal, Economica,  attributed the problem to Mill’s modesty.  (Levy and Peart 2022) Stigler “joked” that in a world of self-promoters, Mill’s contributions would pass unnoticed because had he behaved like everyone else, he would have hawked his important contributions on street corners. This error cascades: if there were nothing original in Principles of Political Economy, then Harriet Taylor Mill could not have made an original contribution to economics.
I found Jo Ellen Jacob’s edition of Harriet Taylor Mill’s works very useful because I was able to focus on the chapter which J. S. Mill attests was “entirely due to her” (in Jacobs, 1998, p. 291).  And now, as Helen McCabe points in her helpful contribution, there is replicable statistical evidence for skeptics to check J. S. Mill’s testimony. All this being said, I think Harriet Taylor Mill even today is not truly appreciated, at least by non-specialists. Helena Rosenblatt in her Lost History of Liberalism points to Harriet Taylor Mill’s importance by summarizing her teaching:
No individual should be allowed to decide for another what was in his or her proper sphere. Every occupation should be open to all, with complete liberty of choice for everyone (2018, pp. 150-151).
This is, of course, correct but I think there is much more that might be said since one can find the same point of view in Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
The problem is, perhaps, that the long contribution of liberalism to economics has been of late reduced to the issue of “markets” vs. “the state.”  Reading Harriet Taylor Mill’s contribution in isolation, it is now obvious that she articulates an anti-state paternalistic strain of classical liberalism.  In her time a paternalist opposition to liberalism could be found in pure form in Fraser’s (Thrall 1934, Weston 2001).  It seems clear that the strain of liberalism that Harriet Taylor Mill articulated is found in the work of Abram Harris and Frank Knight (Levy and Peart 2023). Harris, whose involvement in the early days of the American Civil Rights movement is well-known (Miller 2012), tells us why he abandoned Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, et al.  in favor of Mill:
I came to regard Marx, Veblen, Sombart, Commons, and Pesch as representatives of patterns of thought which depart not only from the analytical methods of traditional economic theory but also from the principles of classical liberalism concerning the meaning of freedom and the political conditions under which it can best be realized. … In making this examination, my guiding spirit became John Stuart Mill, for whom my admiration has increased over the years … his social philosophy which embraces most that is good in our nineteenth century libertarian inheritance. (1958, xiv-xv)
Knight, to whom Harris acknowledges a great debt (Harris 1958,  v) alone, of all his contemporaries, took the family as the unit of analysis for economics. If the family is the unit of analysis, then there is a context to explain how people move from being dependent children to being independent adults.  We can observe Milton Friedman’s drift from Knight’s teaching by the change in his attitude toward state paternalism (Levy and Peart 2023)
It is appropriate to end by noting that Sandra Peart’s edition of Hayek on Mill  is now in paperback via Liberty Fund. To vary Deirdre McCloskey’s joke, at the Liberty Fund price this is surely a suitable holiday gift for young and old!
Harris, Abram L. 1958. Economics and Social Reform. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Hayek, F. A. 2024. Hayek on Mill: The Mill-Taylor Friendship and Related Writings. Edited by Sandra J. Peart. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.
Levy, David M. and Sandra J. Peart. 2022. “George J. Stigler (1911-1991)” In The Palgrave Companion to Chicago Economics. Edited by Robert A Cord. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave.
Levy, David M. and Sandra J. Peart. 2023. “The Hidden Hand of W. E. B. Du Bois: Frank H. Knight’s Eulogy of Abram L. Harris.”  Presented at the History of Economics Conference. Vancouver.
Miller, Eben. 2012. Born Along the Color Line: The 1933 Amenia Conference and the Rise of the National Civil Rights Movement. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rosenblatt, Helena. 2018. The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Taylor Mill, Harriet. 1998. The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill. Edited by Jo Ellen Jacobs and Paula Harms Payne. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press.
Thrall, Miriam M. H. 1934. Rebellious Fraser’s: Nol Yorke’s Magazine in the Days of Maginn, Thackeray, and Carlyle. New York: Columbia University Press.
Weston, Nancy. 2001.  Daniel Maclise: Irish Artist in Victorian London. Dublin: Four Courts Press.