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CONNECTIONS: A ‘goodie’ woman rebels

By 23 years old, Julia Ward Howe was dancing and talking, although neither was sanctioned, and testing the waters of whatever else might shock.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest map to how we got here: America in the 21stcentury.

Julia Rush Cutler Ward was born in 1796. Married at 16 years old, she was pregnant seven times in 11 years, and dead at 27 years old.

She lived weeping in terror and whipping her children because it was a parent’s duty to correct original sin. She died in hysterics, suffering in mortal fear that she was bound for Hell. She and her husband, Samuel Ward III, were Calvinists bound to the idea of a God of Retribution. Her daughter and namesake, Julia Ward Howe, was motherless at 5 years old.

Julia Ward Howe, born 1819, was an American poet and author, best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Howe was careless about the strictures of religion, and was a vocal advocate of abolition and suffrage. The 19th century saw many changes in the lives of women.

In 18th-century America, a notable woman, a good woman — that is, a “Goodie” — was defined as a married woman. In the 18th century, a respected woman could be nothing else. In the 19th century, on the subject of marriage, her daughter wrote: “Marriage, like death, is a debt we owe to nature.” Not upbeat; hardly sanguine.

Her family were upper middle class New Yorkers. Her father, Samuel Ward III, was a highly respected banker with the firm of Prime, Ward, and King. He was also a stockbroker and strict Calvinist. His father, Col. Samuel Ward Jr. (1756–1832), was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Julia’s mother was related to Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution. She died of tuberculosis when Julia was 5 years old. Though screaming in fear of a God of Retribution, Julia Cutler Ward was considered a notable woman.

In 1842, Julia Ward wrote her younger sisters: ” … talked and danced for the last two nights, yet my enjoyment is most imperfect until I have shared it with you … I have had the least dash of Transcendentalism, and that of the very best description, a lecture and a visit from Emerson, in both of which he said beautiful things, and tomorrow (don’t be shocked!) a conversation at Miss Fuller’s, which I shall treasure up for your amusement and instruction. I have also heard (don’t go into hysterics!)…”

By 23 years old, Julia was dancing and talking, although neither was sanctioned, and testing the waters of whatever else might shock. She discussed transcendentalism with Emerson and attended the “conversations” with Margaret Fuller — both considered “advanced” and shocking. Her sisters were instructed not to go into hysterics at the transgressions. The following year, Julia married Samuel Gridley Howe, a doctor, and started a family. She would have three children.

The cover of the sheet music for ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ by Julia Ward Howe

As Julia appeared to “settle down,” mid-century was revving up. It was trumpeted as a scientific age. The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The new interest in knowledge touched women and, while university doors were still shut, they formed women’s clubs. American art and letters were gaining a foothold competitive with Europe. Reform movements were born: Abolition, temperance and suffrage were among them. Women not only joined the movements but led some.

The invention of two machines aided the change in women’s lives: the bicycle and the typewriter. One allowed a woman to travel alone and the other gave her a place outside the home to go: a job. Concomitantly there were changes in politics.

Julia’s brother, Samuel Cutler “Sam” Ward (January 27, 1814 – May 19, 1884), was an American poet, author, gourmet and gourmand. Beginning after the Civil War, he developed a reputation as “King of the Lobby” — that is, he took his tastes and talents to Washington, D.C., and practically single-handedly invented the art of lobbying. He included much wine and good food with persuasive conversation and called it social lobbying. Whatever he called it, lobbying was in our politics to stay.

As her brother changed Washington, Julia began to write. Perhaps thinking of her brother, she wrote: “I am confirmed in my division of human energies. Ambitious people climb, but faithful people build.” Perhaps thinking of her mother, she wrote, “While your life is the true expression of your faith, whom can you fear?”

The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was reverent; much of her writing was not. The Sociomaniac scoffed at Gilded Age society:

“Her mother was a Shaw and her father was a Tompkins,
Her sister was a bore and her brother was a bumpkins…
For my part I never saw where she kept her fascination;
But I thought she had an awful conceit and affectation;
Oh Society!”

The two Julias, mother and daughter, were emblematic of the changes in women’s lives as the century changed.


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