Howe, Julia Ward, 1819-1910
Julia Ward Howe, born in New York City on May 27, 1819, had deep Rhode Island roots. Two of her ancestors–Richard Ward and Samuel Ward–were prominent colonial governors of Rhode Island and her grandfather Samuel Ward commanded the Black Regiment in the Battle of Rhode Island. Her father, Samuel Jr. was a prominent New York banker who furnished her with a first-class private education and standing in New York’s social circles. In 1843 Julia married Samuel Gridley Howe of Boston, almost twenty years her senior. The Howes established a home in Boston where Samuel pursued a notable career as an advocate for the blind and Julia bore five children in the first twelve years of her marriage.
Since Boston was the hub of mid-nineteenth century America’s literary and reform activity, Julia avidly partook of both intellectual currents. In 1854, she published her first volume of lyrics and others followed in rapid succession. Julia and Samuel embraced abolitionism and co-edited an anti-slavery newspaper. “Green Peace,” their Boston home, became a center of abolitionist activity where Theodore Parker, Charles Sumner, and other anti-slavery leaders gathered.
After the outbreak of Civil War, Julia visited a military camp near Washington, D.C. in a party led by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts. The emotional experience prompted her to write a poem which she entitled “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Atlantic Monthly paid her four dollars to publish it, but it soon became the unofficial anthem of the Union army and one of America’s most stirring hymns.
After the war and for the remainder of her long life, Julia became a leader of reform causes most notably women’s suffrage and the campaign for world peace. No movement or “cause” in which women had an interest–from voting rights to pure milk for babies–escaped her notice and involvement. She was the president of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, the New England Women’s Club, and the American branch of the Woman’s International Peace Association, among her many civic posts. Meanwhile Julia continued to write, producing a stream of essays and poems on a wide range of topics. True to her family’s Rhode Island roots, she summered annually in Newport and became the center of a group of literati in that resort city which included the poets Whittier and Longfellow, historian George Bancroft, artists John LaFarge and John Singer Sargeant, and philosopher Henry James. After her death on October 17, 1910, two of her daughters, Laura Richards and Maud Howe Elliott, wrote a revealing two-volume biography of their famous mother, preserving Julia Ward Howe’s memory for future generations and winning the first Pulitizer Prize for biography in the process.