Julia Ward Howe was a summer resident of Portsmouth for over fifty years. One of her homes was on West Main Road close to Lawton’s Valley. Her last home was up Union Street close to Jepson Lane. Julia and her family moved into what they called “Oak Glen” in 1870 and Julia died there in 1910. Julia’s daughter, Maud Howe Elliott, stayed at Oak Glen throughout her mother’s last years and then resided at Oak Glen with her husband,, artist John Elliott. When Maud and her husband moved to Newport, Charles (aka Rathbone) Ballou bought the house. Rathbone Ballou was the son of suffragist Mary Ballou and he hosted meetings of the League of Women Voters at the House. It was Rathbone Ballou in 1950 who donated many of the items in the Julia Ward Howe Collection. Much of what we know about the items comes from the Society’s Records book that lists donations, donors and notes. Most of these items had been at Oak Glen during Julia’s time and then left behind when her daughter sold the home.

Two steel engravings by Landseer – War and Peace, hung in the front hall of Oak Glen. The artist’s name was misspelled in the records book. Julia met the artist at a dinner party in England around 1842. She was seated next to the artist but had not caught his name when they were introduced. In her book Reminiscences she recalls asking him if he knew anything about pictures? “He smiled and answered, ‘Well, yes.’ I then begged him to explain to me some of those which hung upon the walls, which he did with much good nature. Presently some one at the table addressed him as ‘Mr. Landseer,” and I became aware that I was sitting next to the celebrated painter of animals.” Page 99

Julia is famous for writing the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but she was also a prominent literary figure. She wrote plays, poetry, memoirs, speeches and sermons. Her desk is a prize item in our collection. She liked to write standing up and her friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggested adjusting a desk high to be the correct height. After her death, the desk at Oak Glen was cut down again for use by another.

Julia was part of a notable literary circle and many of these writers would have visited Oak Glen. Among these were Bret Harte, Edwin Booth, Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Emma Lazarus, John LaFarge, Mark Twain, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

As an older woman, Julia is often photographed with a cap. In our collection is one of these caps that our record book says was donated by a great grandson of Julia – John Richard Gardner. Also in our collection is a white shawl that Julia used.

There are a few other items and photos listed on the original donation record and we will be locating those and putting them together with our other items from Julia’s home.