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

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

JULIA WARD HOWE

(1819-1910), patriotic crusader for woman's rights and peace

SUSAN SCHULTZ HUXMAN

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

With that stirring line of her famous poem, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward Howe launched a whirlwind career as poet, philosopher, journalist, and public speaker for a host of causes, including woman's rights and peace. Riding a wave of popularity as the nation's spirit personified, she joined the cause for woman suffrage in 1868, arguing that the United States would achieve its true glory only when women received the political and educational advantages they deserved. For forty years she waxed eloquent on the righteousness of woman suffrage.

Despite her profound influence on the women's movement and her legacy as an "American institution," her rhetorical skills have been overlooked, despite large amounts of primary materials. One reason may be that her life and work reveal a paradoxical figure. First, relatively late in life, she entered a movement she had earlier rejected, which exposed the contrast between her public and private lives. Second, she did not fit the standard suffragist mold; she juggled many causes, used poetry and philosophic essays more than the platform, and assumed the role of patriotic mother, not committed activist.

This critical portrait juxtaposes Ward Howe's legendary status as "Great American Mother," "Queen Victoria," and "a national institution" against her career as a patriotic crusader for woman's rights and other causes. In the following pages, a biographical sketch precedes analysis of the substance and style of her rhetoric and assessment of her role as a suffragist.


EARLY YEARS

Born in New York City, Julia Ward lived a privileged, but secluded, childhood with two brothers and two sisters. She was described by her mother as the most incorrigible, impulsive, but vivacious, of the Ward brood. At an early age, the energies of this precocious, red-haired child were diverted to studies. Samuel Ward, a wealthy banker, spent lavishly on the private education of his children. Languages, literature, art, music, philosophy, and the Bible comprised their core curriculum. She spoke fluent French before she could read or write, was an accomplished singer before she was twelve, and published her first poems in the New York American at age fourteen. However, when she was six, her mother died bearing the Wards' eighth child. That loss deprived her of maternal affection and domestic instruction, and irreparably tainted her impression of childbirth. Her father responded to his wife's death by grieving long and fervently in private,

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