Ward Howe and the White House

This post  honors Julia Ward Howe,who was born on May 27 in 1819 and who was inspired to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after she and her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, visited Washington, D.C., and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November 1861.

During the trip, her friend James Freeman Clarke suggested she write new words to the song “John Brown’s Body”, which she did on November 19. The song was set to William Steffe’s already-existing music and Howe’s version was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. It quickly became one of the most popular patriotic songs of the Union during the American Civil War.

Howe was born in New York City. She was the fourth of seven children born to an upper middle class couple. Her father Samuel Ward III was a Wall Street stockbroker, well-to-do banker, and strict Calvinist. Her mother was the poet Julia Rush Cutler, related to Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution. She died of tuberculosis when her daughter was five years old.

Julia was educated by private tutors and in schools for young ladies until she was sixteen. Her eldest brother Samuel Cutler Ward traveled in Europe and brought home a private library. She had access to these modern works, many contradicting the Calvinistic world view presented by her father. She became well read and intelligent, though as much a social butterfly as she was a scholar. She was brought into contact with some of the greatest minds of her time because of her father’s status as a successful banker. She interacted with, among other luminaries,  Charles Dickens.

Julia was visiting Boston in 1841 when she met Samuel Gridley Howe (1801—1876), a physician and reformer who founded the Perkins School for the Blind. They announced their engagement quite suddenly on February 21. Howe had courted her for a time, but he had more recently shown an interest in her sister Louisa. In 1843, they married despite their eighteen-year age difference. She gave birth to their first child while honeymooning in Europe, eleven months later. She bore their last child in 1858 at the age of forty. They had all told six children.

Howe’s most significant accomplishments were her contributions to women’s rights. She laid the foundation for women’s rights groups both in her own home and in the public eye. Howe died of pneumonia October 17, 1910, at her Portsmouth home, Oak Glen at the grand old age of 91. She is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At her memorial service approximately 4,000 individuals sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a sign of respect as it was the custom to sing that song at each of Julia’s speaking engagements.

After her death, her children collaborated on a biography, published in 1916. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography

Here is a YouTube connection to Julia’s inspirational work as performed by one of the best in the business – The United States Army Chorus singing  The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

References: Wikipedia, Community Song Book

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