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Julia Ward Howe

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Julia Ward Howe
Howe in 1895
Howe in 1895
BornJulia Ward
(1819-05-27)May 27, 1819
New York City, U.S.
DiedOctober 17, 1910(1910-10-17) (aged 91)
Portsmouth, Rhode Island, U.S.
(m. 1843; died 1876)
ParentsSamuel Ward III
Julia Rush Cutler
RelativesSamuel Cutler Ward (brother)

Julia Ward Howe (/h/;[1] May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910) was an American author and poet, known for writing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as new lyrics to an existing song, and the original 1870 pacifist Mothers' Day Proclamation. She was also an advocate for abolitionism and a social activist, particularly for women's suffrage.

Early life and education[edit]

Julia Ward was born in New York City on May 27, 1819. She was the fourth of seven children. Her father Samuel Ward III was a Wall Street stockbroker, banker, and strict Calvinist Episcopalian. Her mother was the poet Julia Rush Cutler Ward,[2] related to Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution. She died during childbirth when Howe was five.

Howe was educated by private tutors and schools for young ladies until she was sixteen. Her eldest brother, Samuel Cutler Ward, traveled in Europe and brought home a private library. She had access to these books, many contradicting the Calvinistic view.[3] Though social, she became well-read,[4][5] as well as scholarly. She met, because of her father's status as a successful banker, Charles Dickens, Charles Sumner, and Margaret Fuller.[4]

Her brother, Sam, married into the Astor family,[6] allowing him great social freedom that he shared with his sister. The siblings were cast into mourning with the death of their father in 1839, the death of their brother, Henry, and the deaths of Samuel's wife, Emily, and their newborn child.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Julia Ward Howe

Though raised an Episcopalian, Julia became a Unitarian by 1841.[7] In Boston, Ward met Samuel Gridley Howe, a physician and reformer who had founded the Perkins School for the Blind.[2][8] Howe had courted her, but he had shown an interest in her sister Louisa.[9] In 1843, they married despite their eighteen-year age difference.[2] She gave birth to their first child while honeymooning in Europe. She bore their last child in December 1859 at the age of forty. They had six children: Julia Romana Howe (1844–1886), Florence Marion Howe (1845–1922), Henry Marion Howe (1848–1922), Laura Elizabeth Howe (1850–1943), Maud Howe (1855–1948), and Samuel Gridley Howe Jr. (1859–1863). Howe was an aunt of novelist Francis Marion Crawford. Ward’s marriage to Howe was troublesome for her. He did not approve of her writing and did everything he could to disrupt her creative efforts.[10]

Howe raised her children in South Boston, while her husband pursued his advocacy work. She hid her unhappiness with their marriage, earning the nickname "the family champagne" from her children.[11] She made frequent visits to Gardiner, Maine, where she stayed at "The Yellow House," a home built originally in 1814 and later home to her daughter Laura.[12]

Howe was a vegetarian in the late 1830s but was eating meat again by 1843.[13][14] In 1852, the Howes bought a "country home" with 4.7 acres of land in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which they called "Oak Glen."[15] They continued to maintain homes in Boston and Newport, but spent several months each year at Oak Glen.[15]



Portrait of Julia Ward Howe, by John Elliott, 1925

She attended lectures, studied foreign languages, and wrote plays and dramas. Prior to her marriage, Howe had published essays on Goethe, Schiller and Lamartine in the New York Review and Theological Review.[2] Her first volume of poetry, Passion-Flowers was published anonymously in 1853. The book collected personal poems and was written without the knowledge of her husband, who was then editing the Free Soil newspaper The Commonwealth.[16] Her second anonymous collection, Words for the Hour, appeared in 1857.[2] She went on to write plays such as Leonora, The World's Own, and Hippolytus. These works all contained allusions to her stultifying marriage.[2]

Unpublished during her lifetime but certainly part of her twenty-first century legacy is a fragmentary novel, The Hermaphrodite, assembled from manuscript fragments in Harvard's Houghton Library by Gary Williams and published in 2004 by the University of Nebraska Press.

She went on trips including several for missions. In 1860, she published A Trip to Cuba, which told of her 1859 trip. It had generated outrage from William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist, for its derogatory view of Blacks. Howe believed it was right to free the slaves but did not believe in racial equality.[17] Several letters on High Newport society were published in the New York Tribune in 1860, as well.[2]

Howe's being a published author troubled her husband greatly, especially due to the fact that her poems many times had to do with critiques of women's roles as wives, her own marriage, and women's place in society.[18][19] Their marriage problems escalated to the point where they separated in 1852. Samuel, when he became her husband, had also taken complete control of her estate income. Upon her husband's death in 1876, she found that through a series of bad investments, most of her money had been lost.[4]

Howe's writing and social activism were greatly shaped by her upbringing and married life. Much study has gone into her difficult marriage and how it influenced her work, both written and active.[20]


In the early 1870s, Howe was nominated by Massachusetts governor William Claflin as justice of the peace. However, there were uncertainties surrounding her appointment, as many believed women were not fit to hold office. In 1871, the Massachusetts Supreme Court made the decision that women could not hold any judicial offices without explicit authorization from the legislature, thereby nullifying Howe's appointment to justice of the peace. This led to activists petitioning for legislation allowing women to hold office, separate from legislating women's suffrage. Women's supporters believed that petitioning for officeholding before petitioning for a women's suffrage amendment would expedite women's involvement in politics.[21]

Social activism[edit]

She was inspired to write "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" after she and her husband visited Washington, D.C., and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November 1861. During the trip, her friend James Freeman Clarke suggested she write new words to the song "John Brown's Body", which she did on November 19.[22] The song was set to William Steffe's already existing music and Howe's version was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. It quickly became one of the most popular songs of the Union during the American Civil War.

Howe produced eleven issues of the literary magazine, Northern Lights, in 1867. That same year she wrote about her travels to Europe in From the Oak to the Olive. After the war, she focused her activities on the causes of pacifism and women's suffrage. By 1868, Julia's husband no longer opposed her involvement in public life, so she decided to become active in reform.[2] She helped found the New England Women's Club and the New England Woman Suffrage Association. She served as president for nine years beginning in 1868.[23] In 1869, she became co-leader with Lucy Stone of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Then, in 1870, she became president of the New England Women's Club. After her husband's death in 1876, she focused more on her interests in reform. In 1877 Howe was one of the founders of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in Boston.[24] She was the founder and from 1876 to 1897 president of the Association of American Women, which advocated for women's education.[25] Unlike other suffragists at the time, Howe supported the final version of the Fifteenth Amendment, which had omitted the inclusion of language originally barring discrimination against women as well as people of color.[21] Her reason for supporting this version of the Fifteenth Amendment was that "she viewed black men's suffrage as the priority."[21]

In 1872, she became the editor of Woman's Journal, a widely-read suffragist magazine founded in 1870 by Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell.[26] She contributed to it for twenty years.[2] That same year, she wrote her "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world", later known as the Mother's Day Proclamation,[27] which asked women around the world to join for world peace. (See Category:Pacifist feminism.) She authored it soon after she evolved into a pacifist and an anti-war activist. In 1872, she asked that "Mothers' Day" be celebrated on June 2.[28][29][30][31] Her efforts were not successful, and by 1893 she was wondering if July 4 could be remade into "Mothers' Day".[28] In 1874, she edited a coeducational defense titled Sex and Education.[23] She wrote a collection about the places she lived in 1880 called Modern Society. In 1883, Howe published a biography of Margaret Fuller. Then, in 1885 she published another collection of lectures called Is Polite Society Polite? ("Polite society" is a euphemism for the upper class.) In 1899 she published her popular memoirs, Reminiscences.[2] She continued to write until her death.

Is Polite Society Polite and Other Essays by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe

In 1881, Howe was elected president of the Association for the Advancement of Women. Around the same time, Howe went on a speaking tour of the Pacific coast and founded the Century Club of San Francisco. In 1890, she helped found the General Federation of Women's Clubs, to reaffirm the Christian values of frugality and moderation.[2] From 1891 to 1893, she served as president for the second time of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. Until her death, she was president of the New England Woman Suffrage Association. From 1893 to 1898 she directed the General Federation of Women's Clubs, and headed the Massachusetts Federation of Women's Clubs.[2] Howe spoke at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago reflecting on the question, What is Religion?.[32] In 1908 Julia was the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a society; its goal is to "foster, assist, and sustain excellence" in American literature, music, and art.[33]

Death and legacy[edit]

Howe in 1909

Howe died of pneumonia on October 17, 1910, at her Portsmouth home, Oak Glen at the age of 91.[34] She is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[35] At her memorial service approximately 4,000 people sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as a sign of respect as it was the custom to sing that song at each of Julia's speaking engagements.[36]

After her death, her children collaborated on a biography,[37] published in 1916. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.[38]

In 1987, she was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 14¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.[39]

Several buildings are associated with her name:

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected works[edit]


  • Passion-Flowers (1854)
  • Words for the Hour (1857)
  • From Sunset Ridge: Poems Old and New (1898)[25]
  • Later Lyrics (1866)
  • At Sunset (published posthumously, 1910)[25]

Other works[edit]

  • The Hermaphrodite. Incomplete, but probably composed between 1846 and 1847. Published by University of Nebraska Press, 2004
  • From the Oak to the Olive (travel writing, 1868)[48]
  • Modern Society (essays, 1881)[25]
  • Margaret Fuller (Marchesa Ossoli) (biography, 1883)[25]
  • Woman's work in America (1891)
  • Is Polite Society Polite? (essays, 1895)[25]
  • Reminiscences: 1819–1899[49] (autobiography, 1899)[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Julia Ward Howe". Oxford Learner's Dictionaries.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sandra F. VanBurkleo, Mary Jo Miles (2000). "Howe, Julia Ward". American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved November 5, 2013. (subscription required)
  3. ^ "Howe, Julia Ward (1819–1910)", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2000. Credo Reference. November 7, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "Julia Ward Howe Biography". Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  5. ^ Richards, Laura (1915). Celebration of Women Writers. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  6. ^ Joann, Goodman. "Julia Ward Howe". Archived from the original on December 31, 2013.
  7. ^ Biography Archived April 17, 2019, at the Wayback Machine Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography
  8. ^ "Julia Ward Howe". National Women's History Museum.
  9. ^ Williams, Gary. Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999: 33. ISBN 1-55849-157-0
  10. ^ Showalter, Elaine (February 28, 2017). The civil wars of Julia Ward Howe : a biography. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-4591-0. OCLC 952647568.
  11. ^ Martyris, Nina (March 16, 2016). "Battle Hymn at the Dining Table: A Famous Feminist Subjugated Through Food". NPR. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  12. ^ "Gardiner Public Library, Gardiner, Maine".
  13. ^ Showalter, Elaine (2017). The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography. Simon & Schuster. p. 17. ISBN 978-1451645910
  14. ^ "Julia Ward Howe: 1819-1910". digital.library.upenn.edu. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Julia Ward Howe, Author of Battle Hymn, Spent Much of Her Life in Portsmouth". Zilian Commentary. March 24, 2014. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  16. ^ Williams, Gary. Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999: 134–135. ISBN 1-55849-157-0
  17. ^ "JULIA WARD HOWE (1819–1910)." Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2007. Credo Reference. Web. November 14, 2013.
  18. ^ "Julia Ward Howe – National Women's Hall of Fame". National Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  19. ^ "Open Collections Program: Women Working, Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)". Women Working, 1800 – 1930. Harvard University Library. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  20. ^ Lepore, Jill (February 29, 2016). "'The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe,' by Elaine Showalter". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  21. ^ a b c Katz, Elizabeth D. (July 30, 2021). "Sex, Suffrage, and State Constitutional Law: Women's Legal Right to Hold Public Office". Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. Rochester, NY. SSRN 3896499.
  22. ^ Williams, Gary. Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999: 208. ISBN 1-55849-157-0
  23. ^ a b VanBurleo, Miles
  24. ^ Sander, Kathleen Waters (1998). The business of charity: the woman's exchange movement, 1832–1900. University of Illinois Press. p. 66. ISBN 0252067037.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Ziegler, Valarie H. Diva Julia: The Public Romance and Private Agony of Julia Ward Howe. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003: 148–149. ISBN 1-56338-418-3
  26. ^ Ryan, Agnes E. The Torch Bearer A Look Forward and Back at the Woman's Journal, the Organ of the Woman's Movement.
  27. ^ Howe, Julia Ward (September 1870). Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.
  28. ^ a b Leigh, Eric Schmidt (1997). Princeton University Press (ed.). Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (reprint, illustrated ed.). Princeton University Press. pp. 252, 348 (footnote 17 of chapter 5). ISBN 0-691-01721-2. citing Deborah Pickman Clifford, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Biography of Julia Ward Howe (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 187, 207, and Julia Ward Howe, "How the Fourth of July Should Be Celebrated", Forum 15 (July 1983); 574
  29. ^ The History of Mothers' Day from The Legacy Project, a Legacy Center (Canada) website
  30. ^ Virginia Bernhard (2002). "Mothers' Day". In Joseph M. Hawes, Elizabeth F. Shores (ed.). The family in America: an encyclopedia (3, illustrated ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 714. ISBN 1-57607-232-0.
  31. ^ The First Anniversary of "Mothers' Day", The New York Times, June 3, 1874, p. 8: "'Mothers' Day', which was inaugurated in this city on the 2nd of June, 1872, by Mrs. Julia Ward Howards [sic], was celebrated last night at Plimpton Hall by a mothers' peace meeting..."
  32. ^ Barrows, John Henry, The World’s Parliament of Religions: An Illustrated and Popular Story of the World’s First Parliament of Religions, Held in Chicago in connection with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Volume 2. Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893, 1250-1251.
  33. ^ "Julia Ward Howe Elected to American Academy of Arts and Letters". America's Story. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  34. ^ Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 71. ISBN 0-19-503186-5
  35. ^ Corbett, William. Literary New England: A History and Guide. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1993: 106. ISBN 0-571-19816-3
  36. ^ Howe, Julia Ward (1819–1910)." Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2000. Credo Reference. Web. November 7, 2013.
  37. ^ Richards, Laura Elizabeth Howe; Elliott, Maud Howe; Hall, Florence Howe (January 1, 1915). "Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910". Houghton Mifflin – via Google Books.
  38. ^ Ziegler, Valarie H. Diva Julia: The Public Romance and Private Agony of Julia Ward Howe. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003: 11. ISBN 1-56338-418-3
  39. ^ "Julia Ward Howe Stamp". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. January 23, 1987. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  40. ^ "About". Howe School of Excellence. Academy for Urban School Leadership. Archived from the original on May 26, 2018. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  41. ^ "Howe". City of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  42. ^ Moak, J.M. (May 1987). "Pennsylvania Historic Resource Survey Form: Julia Ward Howe School" (PDF). Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  43. ^ "NRHP nomination for Oak Glen" (PDF). Rhode Island Preservation. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
  44. ^ "Back Bay East". Boston Women's Heritage Trail.
  45. ^ "Home - Howe Elementary School". howe.mtlsd.org. April 22, 2024. Retrieved April 17, 2024.
  46. ^ "Julia Ward Howe". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  47. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Julia Ward Howe
  48. ^ Julia Ward Howe (1868). From the oak to the olive: a plain record of a pleasant journey. Lee & Shepard.
  49. ^ Howe, Julia Ward (January 1, 1900). Reminiscences: 1819–1899. Houghton Mifflin Company – via Internet Archive.

Further reading[edit]

  • Clifford, Deborah Pickman. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Biography of Julia Ward Howe. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1978. OCLC 812767088.
  • Sketches of Representative Women of New England. Boston: New England Historical Pub. Co., 1904. OCLC 46723804.
  • Richards, Laura Elizabeth. Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916. Two vol. OCLC 137282181.
  • Showalter, Elaine. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. OCLC 1001959955.
  • Williams, Gary. Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999
  • Williams, Gary, ed. The Hermaphrodite. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
  • Williams, Gary, and Renee Bergland, eds. Philosophies of Sex: Critical Essays on The Hermaphrodite. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012.

External links[edit]

Works and papers