Julia Ward Howe
Howe was and is most famous for having written the words to a war song, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She worked with her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, on abolitionist causes. We do not know whether Julia agreed with all Samuel did in this area, but Samuel Howe is often believed to be one of the "Secret Six" who bankrolled John Brown’s actions. For the liberation of the slaves the Howes would back war. But after the war when Julia Ward Howe saw the devastation left behind in her own land and saw the Franco-Prussian War beginning across the Atlantic she turned her efforts to the development of an international Mothers’ Day for Peace. She suggested June 2 as the date, since by then there should be good weather for the marches and demonstrations that were to be the focus of the day.
Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers’ Day Proclamation of 1870 is in the back of our hymnal. She proclaimed, "Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those in another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’ From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, Disarm!’ The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, and each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God."
For several years after 1870 women in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other American cities and in England, Scotland and Switzerland celebrated June 2 as a rallying day for peace. Unfortunately, despite these women’s counsels they did not find the "means whereby the …human family can live in peace."
In Julia Ward Howe’s later years she found herself involved in supporting Russian freedom and in support for the Armenians in the Turkish wars. She had two great causes in her life, peace and equality. Sometimes for equality she sacrificed peace. But she found that to sacrifice equality for peace was often too high a price to pay.
Her public struggle to find both peace and equality was a reflection of a struggle that took place in her own household. Julia Ward was married to Samuel Gridley Howe, a radical Unitarian, one of the circle of the Transcendentalists. Samuel Howe took his religious belief in the value of the development of every individual into work with the blind, work with mentally ill, and work with those in prison. Where he did not take his belief in the value of the development of every individual was home. He believed that a married woman’s place was in the home and that her role was to support her husband. She should not have her own public life or be active in the day’s causes on her own. One biographer notes that Julia Ward Howe’s diary indicates that the marriage was violent. Samuel could be controlling and resentful. At times he mismanaged Julia’s financial inheritance, and he managed it. Later in life, Samuel would confess that he had had affairs. The couple considered divorce several times. Julia stayed, in part, because she did love and admire Samuel, and also, in part, because Samuel threatened to keep her from the children if she divorced him. The legal standard and common practice of that time was that children were placed in the father’s custody. Julia Ward Howe did not have equality at home even as she sought equality for others.
After the Civil War Julia Ward Howe and others began to see parallels between struggles for legal rights for blacks and the need for legal equality for women. T.W. Higginson, a friend of the family, a minister, and a leader of a black regiment in the Civil War said of Julia, "From the moment when she came forward in the Women’s Suffrage Movement…there was a visible change; it gave a new brightness to her face, a new cordiality (to) her manner, made her calmer, firmer; she found herself among new friends and could disregard old critics."
Finding some measure of equality would bring Julia some peace. Again according to a biographer, "(Samuel) became less adamant that (Julia) remain a private person, and while he never actively supported her …efforts, his resistance eased."