Julia Ward Howe was born to wealth and privilege. That, coupled with her scholarly and literary background, caused some within the suffragist movement to label her an elitist. Yet Howe believed that the world of literature and ideas was one of the important realms women must be encouraged to enter. To this end, she was active in establishing women’s clubs and became president in 1871 of one of the first: the New England Women’s Club.
With her husband, Howe published an abolitionist newspaper, The Progressive. When “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” catapulted her to fame in 1862, Howe began a career of public activism in both abolitionist and woman suffrage organizations, including serving as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Working with Lucy Stone and others, she founded and contributed for twenty years to the association’s newspaper, Woman’s Journal.
Howe’s international travel and concern for peace led her to organize the Woman’s Peace Congress in London, and, in 1871, she became the first president of America’s chapter of the Woman’s International Peace Association.
Howe’s poetry and plays about men and women, in contrast to her well-known hymn, are filled with dark themes and violence. She also published several nonfiction books, including Sex and Education (1874), a call for coeducation; a biography of Margaret Fuller in 1883, and the autobiography Reminiscences (1899). In 1908, Howe became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.