Julia's Voice is the modern voice of Julia Ward Howe. Stand for Peace is our Mothers Day Event.
Howe as a young mother.
Julia Ward Howe's accomplishments did not end with writing her famous poem, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862. After the celebrated poem was published in The Atlantic Monthly, Julia became a celebrity and was often asked to speak publicly. Devoted to the causes of women's suffrage, peace and equity, she used her celebrity to promote these causes.
Speaking out against war was high among her concerns.
Julia Ward was born in 1819, in New York City, into a strict Episcopalian Calvinist family. Her mother died when she was young, and Julia was raised by an aunt. When her father, a banker of comfortable but not immense wealth, died, her guardianship became the responsibility of a more liberal-minded uncle. She herself grew more and more liberal -- on religion and on social issues.
At 21 years old, Julia married the reformer Samuel Gridley Howe and became a Unitarian Christian. She retained until death her belief in a personal, loving God who cared about the affairs of humanity, and she believed in a Christ who had taught a way of acting, a pattern of behavior, that humans should follow. She was a religious radical who did not see her own belief as the only route to salvation; she, like many others of her generation, had come to believe that religion was a matter of "deed, not creed."
Samuel had married Julia, admiring her ideas, her quick mind, her wit, her active commitment to causes he also shared. But Samuel believed that married women should not have a life outside the home, that they should support their husbands and that they should not speak publicly or be active themselves in the causes of the day.
Julia studied philosophy on her own, learned several languages — at that time a bit of a scandal for a woman — and devoted herself to her own self-education as well as the education and care of their children. She also worked with her husband on a brief venture at publishing an abolitionist paper, and supported his causes. She began, despite his opposition, to get more involved in writing and in public life. She took two of their children to Rome, leaving Samuel behind in Boston.
Her emergence as a published writer corresponds, too, with Samuel's increasing involvement in the abolitionist cause. In 1856, as Samuel led anti-slavery settlers to Kansas ("Bloody Kansas," battlefield between pro- and anti-slavery emigrants), Julia published poems and plays.
As a result of their voluntary work with the Sanitary Commission, in 1862 Samuel and Julia Howe were invited to Washington by President Lincoln. The Howes visited a Union Army camp in Virginia across the Potomac. There, they heard the men singing the song which had been sung by both North and South, one in admiration of John Brown, one in celebration of his death: "John Brown's body lies a'mouldering in his grave."
A clergyman in the party, James Freeman Clarke, who knew of Julia's published poems, urged her to write a new song for the war effort to replace "John Brown's Body." The result was a poem, published first in February 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly, and called "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The poem was quickly put to the tune that had been used for "John Brown's Body" — the original tune was written by a Southerner for religious revivals — and became the best known Civil War song of the North.
Living through the Civil War, Julia had seen some of the worst effects of the war -- death, disease and economic devastation. She worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war, and realized that the effects of the war go beyond the killing of soldiers in battle. She also saw the economic crises that followed the war and the restructuring of the economies of both North and South.
Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the most important causes of the world and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870 she called for women to...
Rise up and oppose war in all its forms, to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
She issued a Declaration (click on Mothers Day Proclamation) to gather together women in a congress of action.
Howe did have her congress and Mothers Day for Peace was observed for several years. But it was left to Anna Jarvis to make Mothers Day a national holiday. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mothers Day. Jarvis's version of the holiday was to honor the important work of mothers -- the celebration's emphasis on peace was lost. But working for peace was not the only accomplishment for Julia Ward Howe. In the aftermath of the Civil War, she, like many before her, began to see parallels between struggles for legal rights for blacks and the need for legal equality for women. She became active in the movement to gain the vote for women.
By 1868, Julia Ward Howe was helping to found the New England Suffrage Association. In 1869 she led, with her colleague Lucy Stone, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) as the suffragists split into two camps over black versus woman suffrage and over state versus federal focus in legislating change. She began to lecture and write frequently on the subject of woman suffrage.
In 1870 she helped Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, found the Woman's Journal, remaining with the journal as an editor and writers for twenty years. She pulled together a series of essays by writers of the time, disputing theories that held that women were inferior to men and required separate education. This defense of women's rights and education appeared in 1874 as Sex and Education.
Julia Ward Howe's later years were marked by many involvements. From the 1870s Julia Ward lectured widely. Many came to see her because of her fame as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Her themes were usually about service over fashion, and reform over frivolity.
She preached often in Unitarian and Universalist churches. Beginning in 1873, she hosted an annual gathering of women ministers, and in the 1870s helped to found the Free Religious Association. In January 1876, Samuel Gridley Howe died. When Howe returned to Boston, she renewed her work for women's rights. In 1883 she published a biography of Margaret Fuller, and in 1889 helped bring about the merger of the AWSA with the rival suffrage organization, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
When Julia Ward Howe died in 1910, four thousand people attended her memorial service. Samuel G. Eliot, head of the American Unitarian Association, gave the eulogy at her funeral at the Church of the Disciples.
Julia in later years
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