Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), American author and reformer, wrote the words for "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Julia Ward, the daughter of a noted banker, was born in New York City on May 27, 1819, and was privately educated there. Rejecting a life of cultivated leisure, she married Samuel Gridley Howe, a physician, reformer, and pioneer teacher of the blind. They lived in Boston and edited the Commonwealth, an antislavery paper. Howe's first book, a collection of poems, was published in 1854; thereafter she wrote many volumes of verse, travel sketches, and essays. None was so popular as her patriotic song, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic, " which she composed in a tent one night after visiting military camps. Because of this song she became one of the best-known and most widely honored women in America.

Though Howe was an ardent unionist in the Civil War, other conflicts repelled her. As a Francophile, she was horrified by the Franco-Prussian War, and she became president of the American Branch of the Woman's International Peace Association in 1871. It failed, as women were not yet ready for such work.

Howe did better at interesting them in more domestic concerns. She helped found the New England Woman's Club in 1868. That same year she organized the New England Woman Suffrage Association and later the American Woman Suffrage Association. The latter was a product of the conflict within the suffrage movement over strategy and principles. New York feminists, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wanted the cause to embrace many social and political issues, from the marriage question to labor unions. More conservative Boston feminists, such as Mrs. Howe and Lucy Stone, focused on woman's rights alone. They encouraged men to join, whereas the New Yorkers believed that men compromised their efforts. For over 20 years these differences divided the movement into two organizations: the American Woman Suffrage Association and the Stanton-Anthony National Woman Suffrage Association. After the National came around to the American's point of view, they united in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Thus, Howe's cautious strategy was adopted, though it would take another 30 years to get woman suffrage.

Howe died on Oct. 17, 1910. She is remembered chiefly for "The Battle Hymn, " in some ways the least of her accomplishments. Yet there is justice in this. She wrote it to help free the slaves; later it became the anthem of the woman suffrage movement. Even later it was used by civil rights workers. In 1968, when Senator Robert Kennedy's funeral train carried his body from New York to Washington, "The Battle Hymn" was sung as a dirge by mourners.

Further Reading on Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe's memoir, Reminiscences, 1819-1899 (1899), is useful. The standard biography is Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliott, Julia Ward Howe (2 vols., 1915). See also Louise Hall Tharp, Three Saints and a Sinner: Julia Ward Howe, Louisa, Annie, and Sam Ward (1956).

Additional Biography Sources

Clifford, Deborah Pickman, Mine eyes have seen the glory: a biography of Julia Ward Howe, Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.

Grant, Mary Hetherington, Private woman, public person: an account of the life of Julia Ward Howe from 1819-1868, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson Pub., 1994.

Richards, Laura Elizabeth Howe, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Atlanta, Ga.: Cherokee Pub. Co., 1990.