Profile in Courage: Julia Ward Howe

26 Aug

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Julia Ward Howe was born in New York City during the year 1819. She grew up privileged and her name possessed great strength socially. Samuel, her father, was a very involved, successful Wall Street banker, and her mother, also named Julia, was a published poet who passed away during the birth of her seventh child. Raised in a wealthy environment, Julia Ward Howe managed to become educated, and she secretly became acquainted with impressive writers of that time.

Consumed by the death of her father and sister-in-law, Howe quickly betrothed Samuel Gridley, a man well recognized for his social work. After marrying, Howe settled into the role of domestic motherhood; however, that was not a position she willfully accepted. Gridley had expectations for his new wife. Along with controlling her behavior, Gridley also took control of Howe’s estate, and she did not possess control of what was left of her affairs until Gridley’s death in 1876.

Howe, desperate for independence and exploration, dealt with a suffering marriage. She was not allowed to work outside of the house, and this was very problematic. In 1852, the couple separated. During this time Howe behaved as though she was not married, ignoring her husband’s wishes and publishing some of her work, beginning with the anonymous collection of poems “Passion Flowers.” The poems themselves were not well liked by the public, but what the poetry represented and the idea of female publication was exciting to readers. Much of the poetry explained the relationship between Gridley and her. This caused Howe’s marital dilemmas to escalate, but she had uncovered a method of coping with her perpetual depression.

It was at this point in her life that Howe became an advocate for women’s rights, abolition, prison reform, and education. Through her work in these areas, Howe became affiliated with several of Boston’s elite. This helped her writing career. Gridley felt strong opposition to Howe’s work. Yet, he needed her. Howe participated as the author and editor of Gridley’s “The Commonwealth,” a short lived newspaper venture.

In 1861, Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was published, bringing her instant celebrity. She was then one of the most famous women of the 19th century. Her work continued, but it was with the death of Gridley in 1876 that her new life began. From that point on, Howe was an impeccable force in women’s suffrage, utilizing her fame to bridge the gap between society and reform.

In addition to all this, Howe co-edited the Women’s Journal and created the American holiday Mother’s Day. She was the first woman inducted into the Society of Arts and Letters, and her biography, written by her children, won a Pulitzer Prize. Through her work as a suffragette, literature, and musical contributions, Howe became a female icon of the 19th century. Looking at her life, multiple men of stature applauded her, some even referring to Howe as “The Queen of America.” Howe passed away in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, having just reached her nineties in the year 1910.

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