Julia Ward Howe
American Poet and Social Worker
1819 – 1910 A.D.
Julia Ward Howe, an American poet and social worker. She was born in New York of wealthy parents, and her youth was spent in fashionable diversions.
After her marriage in 1843 to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the philanthropist and educator of the blind, she became awakened to the great thoughts and movements that dominated her long life of service.
In 1851 she edited, with her husband, the Boston Commonwealth, an anti-slavery journal, and she also lectured on social subjects and preached occasionally in Unitarian pulpits.
The ablest thinkers and boldest doers of Boston’s golden age went continually in and out of the homestead of the Howes, with great men like Edwin ?Booth, Holmes, Longfellow, Emerson, Theodore Parker, Garrison and Wendell Phillips found there a hospitable drawing room.
After the War of the Rebellion broke out, she visited Washington in the autumn of 1861. The Southern troops had forced their way nearly to the capital and threatened its capture. The feelings of Mrs. Howe were stirred to depths she had never suspected in herself, and then she wrote the poem that made her famous. Someone had asked her: “Why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune of John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering [sic] in the grave?” When she went to bed that night, she says: “I slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and these verses down; lest I fall asleep again and forget them. So, with a sudden effort I sprang out of bed, and in the dimness I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper. Having completed my writing, I returned to bed and fell asleep.” The poem, under the title The Battle Hymn of the Republic was published soon after, in the Atlantic Monthly, and the tremendous uplift of its lines carried to the camps of the army. The Union soldiers sang it in bivouac at night, they sang it on the march, and rushing to the fight. And where it was sung, it counted more than many men for victory.
After the war Mrs. Howe’s mind turned more and more to the woman question, and to the work being done by Lucy Stone, Miss Anthony, Mrs. Stanton and others, and she soon became a leader in the great movement. In 1878 she became president of the Association for the Advancement of Women, and during the next thirty years she directed the association – which was simply a women’s club on a national scale. Wherever she went she changed drawing-rooms into schools and council-chambers, and fashionable women into students anxious for the improvement of their minds and the betterment of all mankind. Social spirited, socially capable, she seemed to be the one person best qualified to band all women into societies for self-culture and social service.
Julia Warden Howe lived to the age of ninety-one, and as her contemporaries one by one dropped away, the veneration of the young for older, heroic generation came to center upon her, the only surviving member People came on pilgrimage to see her, audiences rose in respect when she entered a theatre, and an autograph copy of the Battle Hymn of the Republic was considered the choicest of personal relics. In the last year of her life, when someone asked her for a motto for the women of America, she replied promptly, “Up to Date!” And to the end she was herself up to date.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.