Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe was a Portsmouth woman of note.  Julia and her family came to Portsmouth every summer from the time of the Civil War to 1910 when she died at her Oak Glen home on Union Street. Both of Julia’s homes in Portsmouth were in the Lawton Valley area.  Julia was intimately involved in Portsmouth life.  She even used to preach at the Christian Union Church (now the home of the Portsmouth Historical Society). The historical society is blessed to have some items from her home at Oak Glen.  Included among them is her writing desk.

Julia had deep family roots in Rhode Island.  On her father’s side she was descended from Roger Williams and colonial Rhode Island Governors.  Julia was born in New York City on May 27, 1819.  Her father, Samuel Ward, was a banker and her mother was Julia Cutler.  Julia Ward Howe was only five years old when her mother died, but Julia seemed to follow in her mother’s footsteps as an author.  She began writing very early and even contributed to the New York Magazine when she was just seventeen.  Through her career Julia wrote poems, plays, travel sketches, essays, stories, book and play reviews.  She is best remembered for writing the poem which was set to music as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”  (More on that topic in the next blog).

She persisted in writing even when her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, discouraged her efforts.  She even had works secretly published so her husband would not know about them.   Julia and Samuel Howe married in 1843. The Howe family lived in Boston where Samuel was a founder of the Perkins School for the Blind.   Julia would have an understanding of the need for women to have more control over their own lives.

On her 89th birthday, Julia Ward Howe made some hopeful comments to her well wishers. “When I remember the cold welcome given to all the great reforms, temperance, anti-slavery, woman suffrage, the higher education of women, etc. – and when I see how largely they have been accepted into the practical program, I feel that life is miraculous. The world is now wide awake to things which 60 years ago saints and philosophers dreamed of but never expected to see.”

Julia was active in all the reforms she mentioned.  She was a voice that commanded attention.  When she died in 1910, her obituary in the Newport Daily News summarized all the aspects of her life. “She was a beauty, social queen, preacher, poet, anchor, a lover of music and all the fine arts and a friend of the oppressed in all nations, a platform speaker of great popularity, the maker of home the gentlest, most ideal and holy to be conceived, a loyal, helping and loving wife, and yet one of the most pronounced of woman suffrage; the friend and intimate of the rich and powerful of earth yet with a heart full of sympathy for the lowly, ignorant and downtrodden, and with pen and voice ready for their defense and uplift.”

In coming blogs we will cover Julia and her Causes (including how she started Mother’s Day) and Julia’s own description of how she wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic.