By Yoon Joung Lee
The famous author of, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe, was born in New York City in 1819. Her father was a successful Wall Street banker, Samuel Ward and her mother was a published poet, Julia Rush Cutler, who was a granddaughter of William Greene, Governor of Rhode. Howe was the third of seven children. When she was five, her mother died shortly after giving birth to her seventh child and her father’s influence dominated the childrens’ lives.
From an early age, Julia Ward was educated by tutors and private schools. She learned French from early childhood and began to learn Italian at 14. She was also able to speak German and read Latin and Greek. She was an intelligent child who utilized her family’s library to culturally expand herself, when women were very limited in their educational endeavors.
Her family home had an extensive library and art gallery. At her library she became acquainted with writers such as Balzac and Sand without her father’s knowledge. The writer’s liberal and modern views contrasted with her father’s Calvinistic vision.
In 1843, Julia met and married Samuel Gridley Howe who was famous for his work on behalf of the Greek Revolution, reform work for prisoners, and support of education for the blind. However, their marriage did not go well. They were separated after 9 years of marriage in 1852. Her husband wanted her to attend to “wifely duties” like rearing children and reading philosophy. She brought her two youngest kids to her sister’s place in Rome. Not too long after her return, she anonymously published her work “Passion Flowers,” a collection of poems. The poems were sensational by talking about the intimate affairs of a ‘real’ man and woman and the author’s identity quickly became an open secret.
Around that time, she found a new resolution for her depression from her husband. She became involved in the reform movement and supported various issues like abolition, womens’ rights, prison reform and education. From her activities, she also met the Boston intellectual elite such as William Ellery Channing, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Theodore Parker.
While her husband strongly objected to her outside works, he also depended heavily on his wife as editor and writer for his newspaper, The Commonwealth. Although Julia was prevented from some of the work she liked to be involved in, she tried her best to free herself from her husband’s demands and developed her own interests.
When her poem, Battle Hymn of the Republic, was published in 1861 after she and her husband visited Washington D.C. and there met Abraham Lincoln at The White House, she became an instant celebrity and the poem became a national anthem of sorts.
In 1870, she first proclaimed Mother’s Day, which she envisioned as a day of solemn council where women from all over the world discuss about the means to achieve world peace. From 1872 to 1879, she helped Lucy Stone and Henry Brown Blackwell in editing Woman’s Journal.
In 1874 after her husband died, she focused more on her interests in reform. She founded the Association of American Women which advocated for womens’ education. She also worked for various organizations like the New England Womens’ Club, the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, the New England Suffrage Association, and the American Woman suffrage Association. In 1908, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters as the first woman.
Julia Ward Howe died in 1910 at her home, Oak Glen in Rhode Island, at the age of 91. Her funeral services were held at Church of the Disciples and at Symphony Hall by overflowing crowds. In 1916, her children collaborated and published her biography and it won the Pulitzer Prize.