Julia Ward Howe, 1819 – 1910
Julia Ward Howe is probably best known for her poem, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was set to the music of an old folk tune, and became the semi-official song of the Union Army during the Civil War. But in addition to writing poetry, biographies and essays she was also an avid suffragist who, in 1868 helped form and was the first president of the New England Woman Suffrage Association.
Julia Ward was born May 27, 1819 in New York City to prominent banker Samuel Ward and poet Julia Rush. Her mother died when she was five years old, and her education was assumed by an aunt who believed strongly in educating girls in the arts, literature and sciences. Julia developed a love of poetry, and had poems published at an early age. In 1843 she married Samuel Gridley Howe. The couple had six children, but the marriage was not a happy one; Samuel Howe was autocratic, and did not approve of Julia’s literary efforts, nor of her involvement in public life. Despite his disapproval she continued writing; her success with The Battle Hymn of the Republic brought her fame and some independence.
Her work with the New England Woman Suffrage Association resulted in a friendship with suffragist Lucy Stone from Boston. Together they created the American Woman Suffrage Association, a conservative organization whose beliefs contrasted with those of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, founders of the more “radical” National Woman’s Suffrage Association. In 1870 Julia and Lucy published the Woman’s Journal, a suffrage newspaper that promoted their more conservative ideas, in direct conflict with The Revolution, Stanton and Anthony’s newspaper.
One of their differences centered on the participation and influence of men in their respective organizations. Men were actively encouraged to join the Boston group; Henry Ward Beecher was its first president. They also limited their focus to woman suffrage, and were not interested in working on other issues. Stanton and Anthony preferred to give only women prominent positions in their organization, while also working on other issues, such as equal pay for women and divorce reform. In 1890 the two groups decided to put their differences aside and join together for the greater good of both, resulting in the creation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), a melding Julia Ward Howe strongly supported.
In addition to her suffrage work she traveled and lectured on the importance of world peace, and in 1871 became the first president of the American branch of the Women’s International Peace Association. In 1908, in another “first,” she became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She continued to publish travel books, biographies, poems and essays until her death in 1910.
Like many wealthy women of her era, Julia Ward Howe could have enjoyed a life of leisure. Instead, she chose the difficulties of a very public life, and worked to better the lives of others.
Happy Birthday, Julia Ward Howe!