Those who recognize the name Julia Ward Howe probably think of her as the author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." However, in her time she was noted as a speaker, writer, and activist. She was born in 1819 to a wealthy New York City family. Her mother died when she was young, and her strict Calvinist father raised her and her siblings.
She received more education than most women in her time, both at home and in private schools, and was fluent in several languages and well versed in music and literature. By the time she was 20, she had published anonymous literary criticism in multiple journals.
In 1939, while mourning the death of her father, Julia examined her spirituality and turned toward Unitarianism. Over the next few years, she met several notable Unitarians, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and noted blind teacher Samuel Gridley Howe. She and Howe married in 1843. Over the next twelve years, the couple had five children.
During the early years of her marriage, though her husband did not approve, Julia continued to write, having poems published in two anthologies in 1848 and in 1854 published her own anonymous poetry book, Passion Flowers. As her identity as the author of Passion Flowers, which was well-reviewed, became a more open secret, Julia's husband became more and more displeased with her writing. The couple considered divorce but remained married, mostly for the sake of their younger children. Julia continued to write, publishing another book of poetry, Words for the Hour, shortly followed by her play, The World's Own, in 1857. In 1960, she wrote a piece for the New York Tribune about a trip to Cuba.
During the 1850s, the Howes became involved in the abolitionist movement. It was during this time that Julia wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was first published in The Atlantic in 1862. On the popularity of the song, Julia began speaking and reading publicly. She also joined liberal organizations including the Radical Club and Caroline Severance. She was a founding member of the New England Woman's Suffrage Organization, of which she served as president from 1868-77 and 1893-1910. She and Lucy Stone also co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Julia was also an early contributor to Lucy Stone's Women's Journal. She also served as president for both General Federation of Women's Clubs and the Association for the Advancement of Women.
During the 1870s Franco-Prussian War, Julia became a peace activist. She founded American Friends of Russian Freedom in 1891, and served as president of the United Friends of Armenia. She also initiated a "Mother's Peace Day," which has since morphed into Mother's Day. In 1875, Julia called forward the first ever convention of Universalist women ministers.
After the death of her husband in 1876, Julia increased her lecturing appearances, then took a two-year trip to Europe and the Middle East with her youngest daughter. Upon her return to Boston, she continued to write, lecture, and agitate.
In 1908, Julia was the first woman ever to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Julia died in 1910, at the age of 91.