Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Julia Ward Howe was a luminary in the woman suffrage movement. She added to its credibility, despite being a figure of some contradiction. For suffragists everywhere, she was a cheerleader for the cause, rekindling optimism in the rank and file, and forecasting victory at every turn.

For conservative women, she was a role model for how a "society lady" could turn reformer gracefully. In a biography of their mother, Laura Richards and Maud Howe Elliott recalled that a male friend once said: "Her great importance to this cause is that she forms a bridge between the world of society and the world of reform" ( 1925:197).

By age seventy, she had become almost a permanent fixture at any grand commemorative occasion in Boston and Washington, where encore performances of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were common occurrences. Presidents from Lincoln to Taft praised her civic-mindedness. The public's perception of her as a "true-blue patriot" enhanced her efforts to attract a large forum for causes like woman's rights and world peace. While the pessimistic rhetoric of some reformers was too disturbing for most people's taste, her social millennialism was hard to resist. As her daughter Florence Howe Hall observed, "her rare culture and wide acquaintance with the best and most distinguished men and women of her day invest[ed] her words with authority" (Intro., WSM:5).

Yet for suffrage leaders, Ward Howe must have been a puzzlement and, to an extent, a disappointment. First, her inability to embrace a consistent woman's rights ideology made her less effective at articulating the philosophic core of the movement and, ultimately, made her less recognizable as a persuasive figure within the movement's rank and file. In keeping with the tenets of Transcendentalism, she advanced the androgyny of the sexes, yet she also repeatedly argued that women were specially endowed as moral creatures. She celebrated civic pride and military prowess, as part of beliefs in social millennialism, yet embraced pacifism in her affiliation with the peace movement. The woman who sang the Union's praises in "The Battle Hymn" also exhorted readers of the Journal to "Disarm! disarm!," warning that "The sword of murder is not the balance of justice" ( September 24, 1870:297). She refused to associate with "radicals" of the movement, yet she idolized Margaret Fuller, a radical in her time.

Second, Ward Howe's long list of club memberships may have won her a diverse following, but it compromised her loyalty to woman suffrage. Her lack of focus disturbed some suffragists. In 1888, when the two rival associations were contemplating unification, SUSAN B. ANTHONY suggested that Ward Howe not be considered for offices in the new organization because she had not developed her reputation solely as a suffragist.

Third, conspicuously absent from Ward Howe's rhetoric was any real disaffection with the status quo--a key movement characteristic. She did not chronicle the injustices done to women; she did not revel in castigating a scapegoat; she


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 512

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?