Encyclopedia Womannica

Feminists: Julia Ward Howe

Episode Summary

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was a famed writer and poet, prominent abollitionist, suffragist, peace activist, social activist and education activist. She was heavily involved in the fight for national suffrage, and helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association. She is perhaps best remembered today for penning the famous Civil War anthem “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

This month of Encyclopedia Womannica is sponsored by Fiverr. Fiverr’s marketplace helps the world’s feminists get more done with less. Take Five and show your support for Fiverr’s new store at FVRR.co/women, where they feature over 100 of the platform’s top female talent.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s feminist was a famed writer and poet, prominent abollitionist, suffragist, peace activist, social activist and education activist. She was heavily involved in the fight for national suffrage, and helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association. She is perhaps best remembered today for penning the famous Civil War anthem “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Please welcome Julia Ward Howe.

Julia Ward was born on May 27, 1819 in New York City to Samuel Ward, a successful banker from a very prominent New York family, and Julia Rush Cutler, a poet of some acclaim. Julia was the fourth of their seven children.

When Julia was five, her mother died. From that point on one of her aunts took over childcare duties for the Ward children. This included providing an excellent private education for Julia.

While Julia had a keen mind and generally excelled in her studies, she was a particularly talented writer. By the time she was 20, her poetry was being published in literary magazines, albeit anonymously. 

In 1839, Julia’s father died, and she began to spend less time in New York and more time with friends in Boston. As a talented poet, she was quite a hit there. Her friends included other members of high society, and also great creative minds and writers of the day like Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

In 1843, Julia accompanied her friend, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on a tour of the New England Institute for the Blind. There she met the Institute’s director Dr. Samuel Howe. She  immediately fell for him despite the fact that he was nearly two decades her senior. They married soon after and Julia gave birth to six children in fairly quick succession. 

Unfortunately, the marriage was not a particularly happy one. Samuel spent most of his time and energy on work, and he disapproved of Julia’s writing and social activities. He felt that her time was better spent at home. The two did work together successfully on an abolitionist journal, but the larger issues in their marriage lingered and Julia became increasingly unhappy.

Beginning in 1848, Julia began receiving greater critical acclaim for her published poetry. This only seemed to worsen the problems at home. During that period, she wrote a number of plays and poems that reflected her anguish.

With the start of the Civil War in 1860, Julia began work for the US Sanitary Commission, which promoted hygienic practices and general cleanliness for soldiers and hospitals alike. 

In 1862, during the middle of the Civil War, Julia published a poem in Atlantic Monthly called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The poem was immensely popular off the bat and soon became the semi-official anthem for the Union side. It also brought Julia great personal acclaim. 

With the end of the Civil War in 1865, Julia became heavily involved in the burgeoning women’s rights and suffrage movements. She helped to found and lead a number of major organizations, including the New England Suffrage Association and the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. 

As we discussed during our episode on Susan B. Anthony, the women’s suffrage movement was deeply divided at the time over whether to support the 15th Amendment, which enfranchised black men, but still left all women without the right to vote. Many famous suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not support the Amendment, and the issue deeply divided the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Unlike Susan B. Anthony, Julia was a major supporter of the 15th Amendment and broke away from the NWSA as a result of her position. She and famed suffragist Lucy Stone, who we will be covering later this month, started the American Woman Suffrage Association for those suffragists who sided with them on this issue. Julia also established the association’s well-known publication, the Woman’s Journal, which she edited for two decades. 

In the 1870s, Julia began advocating for world peace, and became a leader in the Women’s International Peace Association. She took part in a major lecture tour across the country during which she earned the nickname “Dearest Old Lady in America.” 

Julia also founded the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873. The AAW was focused on improving the quality and access of education for women, as well as advocating for their entrance into the job force and particularly into fields and professions traditionally reserved for men. Julia served as the AAW’s president for many years.

In 1908, Julia became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She died two years later in 1910 in Newport, Rhode Island. 

All month we’re talking about feminists. We’ve covered feminists in every theme so far. What differentiates this month is that we will be looking at women who were particularly important to the women’s rights movement, the suffrage movement, and/or modern feminism and feminist theory. On Saturdays, we’re talking about modern feminists brought to you by this month’s sponsor, Fiverr. On Sundays, we’re highlighting favorite feminists from past months chosen by other podcast hosts we love. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our new Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

This month of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Fiverr, an online digital services marketplace connecting businesses with women who are creating, designing, copywriting, programming, editing, and more. 

For women the ability to work flexibly and on our own terms is highly valued. Fiverr is one of the rare platforms where globally, women are on average making 19% more than men. That’s something to celebrate this Women’s History Month as we call for more industry leaders to join with Fiverr and make strides in closing the gap, and supporting women in challenging current stereotypes and the status quo. 

Fiverr’s marketplace helps the world’s feminists get more done with less. Take Five and learn more about how Fiverr is celebrating International Women's Day by supporting the female talent on Fiverr’s platform at FVRR.co/women.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!