Julia Ward Howe

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Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910) was an abolitionist, women's rights activist, poet and writer.

Julia was educated by tutors at home and in girls' schools until age 16.[1]

In November 1861, the same year that the Civil War began, Howe was visiting Washington, D.C. with her husband, and observed the Union forces during the day and campfires at night. She had difficulty sleeping. In the early morning hours, as the rest of the nation slept, an inspiration struck her to write the lyrics to the famous song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic.[2] These words were published by the Atlantic Monthly on February 1, 1862, and became the theme song for the Union during the Civil War; with existing music by William Steffe, quickly became one of the most popular songs of the Union. This poem was put to the tune of a campfire spiritual written around 1855 by South Carolinian William Steffe, which had been adapted to many different lyrics.

The title of John Steinbeck's most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was suggested by his wife Elaine, and is from a line of this song.

Historians see the basis for The Battle Hymn of the Republic in a popular song among abolitionists that included these lyrics:[3]

John Brown's body lies amoulding in the grave.
His soul is marching on!

Howe became active in movements for women's rights, helping to found the New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1868.[4]

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe advocated the celebration of a "Mothers' Day for Peace." Howe wrote the proclamation of the mother's day, a passionate call to peace and disarmament. Howe wrote poetry; also wrote plays and travel books. He collaborated with Henry and Lucy Blackwell on the foundation of the Woman's Journal where she wrote and edited for 20 years. Some of his writings are: "The Other Side of the Woman Question" 1879 and "What Is Religion?" 1893.

Julia married Samuel Colonel Howe, the educator of blinds who was also an active abolitionist and promoter of other reforms. Julia Ward Howe is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


  1. Open Connections Program, Women Working 1800-1930, Harvard University Library: Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)[1]
  2. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/richards/howe/battle.html
  3. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/richards/howe/howe-I.html
  4. Open Connections Program, Women Working 1800-1930, Harvard University Library: Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)[2]