Julia Ward Howe
Article abstract: Howe composed the lyrics to the inspiring patriotic song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and was an active crusader for women’s right to vote.
On May 27, 1819, in New York City, Julia Ward was born to Samuel Ward and Julia Rush Cutler Ward. She was the couple’s second daughter and the fourth of their seven children. Another Julia had previously been born to the Wards, only to die at age three. All the surviving Ward children enjoyed good relations with one another for most of their lives, especially the girls. Samuel Ward’s ancestors had migrated to America from Gloucester, England, and settled in Rhode Island, a state which two Wards served as early governors. Samuel Ward himself was a partner in the prestigious Wall Street banking firm Prime, Ward, and King. Julia Cutler Ward, young Julia’s mother, had been born in Boston but had relatives living in South Carolina, where her own mother had been a Southern belle. Among the Cutler ancestors was General Francis Marion, the celebrated “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution.
Little Julia, or “Little Miss Ward,” as her family called her, had an intelligent nature combined with a sometimes fiery temper. As an adolescent, she developed scholarly habits that would remain with her throughout her life. Her father saw to it that all of his daughters were well educated; their private tutor, Joseph Cogswell, had them follow the Harvard curriculum of the early 1800’s. Julia was also tutored in the Romance languages and took lessons in voice and piano from an Italian master.
All these things Mr. Ward was able to provide because of his comfortable financial status. He had a roomy, well-decorated house built at the corner of Bond Street and Broadway; one section of this dwelling housed his private art gallery. Mr. Ward was also, however, a strict and deeply religious man; he did not like his daughters to attend the theater or to mix too freely in New York society. Indeed, he delayed their entrance into society formally for some time, much to Julia’s disappointment.
Once Julia entered New York society, she was an instant favorite. She was a petite young woman, only five feet and one-quarter inch tall. She had bright blue eyes and red hair combined with a creamy white skin in a lovely, oval-shaped face. She began to attend New York parties with some regularity when her brother, Samuel Ward, Jr., married Emily Astor of the wealthy Astor family, in 1837.
Julia Ward faced two tragedies in her early life. Her mother died when she was five; she had been tubercular and died of a fever days after giving birth to her seventh child. Mr. Ward was devastated by the early death of his wife, who was only twenty-eight; he invited her intelligent, witty sister, Miss Eliza Cutler, to reside in his home and care for his children. Little Julia showed much of the wit for which her aunt was noted; she also liked to write poetry, as her mother had done.
Julia had recently turned twenty when her father died. At that time Edward Ward, an uncle, looked after the orphaned children and managed their finances. Julia was deeply upset by her father’s death. Shortly after, in 1841, she journeyed to visit friends in Boston to try to end her depression. Among her Massachusetts acquaintances was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a longtime friend of her brother, Samuel. While in Boston, Julia accompanied Longfellow on a visit to the Perkins Institute for the Blind. There she met the school’s director, a famous educator and reformer, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Dr. Howe, also a physician, was a tall and handsome bachelor of forty. Julia, now twenty-two, was attracted to him. They first appeared publicly as a couple in 1842 at a farewell dinner given for Charles Dickens in Boston, and shortly thereafter, their engagement was announced. They were married on April 23, 1843, after what is recorded as a stormy courtship.
The transition from girlhood and a relatively happy life among the cultured society of New York to that of a wife, mother, and homemaker in the unfamiliar setting of Boston was not easy for Julia Ward Howe. In New York she had been a favorite child in the extended Ward family living on clannish Bond Street; she had a quick wit, a winning charm, and skill as a conversationalist—all of which endeared her to New York society on the whole. In Boston, however, the new Mrs. Howe was a stranger. Her husband’s friends included such men as Horace Mann, an educator of the deaf, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Transcendentalist, and while she got along well with these men, Boston society as a group did not embrace her.
Some of Howe’s own actions caused Bostonians to keep their distance from her in the early years of her marriage. She did not know how to entertain guests in her home, since she had had servants to do that in New York. She also became a controversial figure because of her gift for repartee, which she could at times direct sharply against people. Howe had always been high-spirited—meaning that she had a mind of her own and often spoke her opinions. These traits not only hurt her in Boston society, where women were demure and passive, but also caused trouble between her and Dr. Howe, especially during the 1850’s.
Dr. Howe was attracted to his wife for her beauty and vitality, but he never reconciled himself to her independent spirit. One of the greatest sources of argument for the couple was her literary career. She had a volume of lyric poetry published anonymously in 1854 under the title Passion Flowers, and some of the pieces in it proved too passionate to meet with her husband’s approval. Dr. Howe was infuriated when Julia Ward Howe (by rumor) became publicly known as the book’s author. Dr. Howe did not approve of women working outside their homes, and this was especially true for his own wife, who had their six...
(The entire section is 2425 words.)