Julia Ward Howe Biography

Songwriter, Women's Rights Activist, Activist, Poet, Civil Rights Activist (1819–1910)
Julia Ward Howe was a women's rights activist, abolitionist and writer who penned the poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic."


Julia Ward Howe was born on May 27, 1819, in New York City. She became a writer, penning several books and also working on the abolitionist newspaper The Commonwealth with her husband Samuel. Howe is known for writing the lyrics to the iconic song "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and later was highly active in the women's suffrage movement. She died on October 17, 1910, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Early Life and Career

Julia Ward Howe was born Julia Ward in New York City on May 27, 1819, to Julia Rush, a poet, and Samuel Ward Jr., a stockbroker. During her childhood, Ward's mother passed away, and the girl had a controlled, limited social life due to her father's conservatism. Ward was taught at home by tutors and attended a girls' school into her teens.

After her father's death, Howe moved to Boston, Massachusetts. In 1843, she married Samuel Gridley Howe, a doctor who was also a teacher for the blind. The couple went on to have six children. Their marriage, however, was often not a happy one, as Julia wished to live a life beyond the realm of the home, while her husband had rigid ideas of what a woman's role should be. Nonetheless, Howe worked as a writer.

In the 1840s, Howe wrote a novel, The Hermaphrodite, which went unpublished for some time. She also penned the books of poetry Passion Flowers (1854) and Words for the Hour (1857) and the play Leonora, or the World's Own (1857). Howe worked with her husband as editor on the abolitionist paper The Commonwealth as well.

Writing 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'

Upon visiting a camp near Washington, D.C., in November 1861, as part of a trip where Samuel was transporting supplies, Howe sang popular tunes along with troops and spectators. The tunes they sang included "John Brown's Body," a marching song for the Union army. Howe was inspired to write new lyrics for the song in the early morning twilight while at her hotel.

The words became the poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic," published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. Set to music, the Christian-based work would become a famous, rousing cry for the Union during the Civil War and was also used in the anti-slavery and suffrage movements.

A Suffrage Activist

Howe became very active in civic life after the Civil War, working for and forming a number of women's rights and suffragist organizations. She helped to establish the New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1868 and later worked with the American Woman Suffrage Association and the General Federation of Women's Clubs International. Fellow suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with the National Woman Suffrage Association, had a different ideological and strategic approach than Howe.

A renowned lecturer, Howe was also an advocate of women being involved in peace movements. She published in 1870 her "Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World," which pushed for a women's peace congress. Howe also ardently called for an end to the Franco-Prussian War.

Author, Editor and World Traveler

Howe continued her editorial pursuits as well, founding the literary journal Northern Lights and serving as founder and longtime editor of Woman's Journal. Other books that she published included Sex and Education (1874), Modern Society (1881) and Margaret Fuller (1883), a biography. She also became the first woman to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1908.

Howe was a globetrotter who traveled throughout the United States in her lifetime, also visiting Cuba (as recounted in her 1860 book A Trip to Cuba), Europe and the Middle East. Cherished as an American icon, Howe died on October 17, 1910, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

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