Poet, Author, Sufferage Leader

Julia Ward Howe


Wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to honor Lincoln, and lyrics for the civil war hym "John Brown's Body"

Julia Ward Howe, writer, poet, leader for women’s suffrage, and author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, was born in New York City on May 27, 1819.

She was born into a wealthy Manhattan family and received her early education from governesses and private schools. In 1841, Ward met her future husband, Samuel Howe on a visit to Boston. The two were married on April 23, 1843 and settled in Boston where they would raise six children. Together, they published the anti-slavery periodical Commonwealth, and worked on political causes centering around abolition and later the Civil War. Dedicated to self-education, Howe studied philosophy, learned several languages and began to get more involved in public life and writing. In the late 1950’s, Howe’s poems and plays began getting attention in national magazines.

Inspired from a 1861 visit to Washington in which Howe and her husband were escorted by President Lincoln to visit a Union Army camp in Virginia, a clergyman familiar with Julia’s poetry urged her to write a new song for the war effort to replace the slave song “John Brown’s Body”. As Howe described the event later: “I replied that I had often wished to do so”.in spite of the excitement of the day I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately. I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking, as I learned to do by often scratching down verses in the darkened room when my little children were sleeping. Having completed this, I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me." The result was “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862 and became the best known and most inspiration song for the Union during the Civil War.

Mostly remembered for this glorious poem, her later life in women’s suffrage was just as impressive. In 1868, the New England Woman’s Club was formed and Howe is one of its first vice presidents. She becomes the president of the New England Woman Suffrage Association and the following year becomes one of the leaders of the American Woman Suffrage Association. She was responsible for being one of the first voices introducing the idea in the United States of a national Mother’s Day with her proclamation “Mother’s Day and Peace,” and she was a founder of the Town and Country Club. Then in 1908, Julia was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She had several writings published including Life of Margaret Fuller (1883) and From Sunset Ridge: Old and New (1898). In 1890, Howe was also a founder of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was also influential in other causes including support for Russian freedom and Armenians in the Turkish wars.

Julia Ward Howe died at Oak Glen, her summer home in South Portsmouth, Rhode Island, on October 17, 1910. Her memorial service was attended by 4,000 people.

Having completed this [writing Battle Hymn of the Republic], I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me.

Julia Ward Howe