Julia Ward Howe's emergence as a published writer corresponded with her husband's increasing involvement in the abolitionist cause. In 1856, as Samuel Gridley Howe led anti-slavery settlers to Kansas ("Bloody Kansas," a battlefield between pro- and anti-slavery emigrants), Julia published poems and plays.
The plays and poems further angered Samuel. References in her writings to love turned to alienation and even violence were too clearly allusions to their own poor relationship.
When the American Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act -- and Millard Fillmore as President signed the Act -- it made even those in Northern states complicit in the institution of slavery. All US citizens, even in states that banned slavery, were legally responsible to return fugitive slaves to their owners in the South. The anger over the Fugitive Slave Act pushed many who had opposed slavery into more radical abolitionism.
In a nation even more divided over slavery, John Brown led his abortive effort at Harper's Ferry to capture arms stored there and give them to Virginia slaves. Brown and his supporters hoped that the slaves would rise in armed rebellion, and slavery would end. Events did not, however, unfold as planned, and John Brown was defeated and killed.
Many in the circle around the Howes were involved in the radical abolitionism that gave rise to John Brown's raid. There is evidence that Theodore Parker, their minister, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, another leading Transcendentalist and associate of Samuel Howe's, were part of the so-called Secret Six, six men who were convinced by John Brown to bankroll his efforts which ended at Harper's Ferry. Another of the Secret Six, apparently, was Samuel Gridley Howe.
The story of the Secret Six is, for many reasons, not well known, and probably not completely knowable given the deliberate secrecy. Many of those involved seem to have regretted, later, their involvement in the plan. It's not clear how honestly Brown portrayed his plans to his supporters.
Theodore Parker died in Europe, just before the Civil War began. T. W. Higginson, also the minister who married Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell in their ceremony asserting women's equality and who was later a discoverer of Emily Dickinson, took his commitment into the Civil War, leading a regiment of black troops. He was convinced that if black men fought alongside white men in the battles of war, they would be accepted as full citizens after the war.
Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe became involved in the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an important institution of social service. More men died in the Civil War from disease caused by poor sanitary conditions in prisoner of war camps and their own army camps than died in battle. The Sanitary Commission was the chief institution of reform for that condition, leading to far fewer deaths later in the war than earlier.
Julia Ward Howe Biography
- About Julia Ward Howe - Basics and Bibliography
- Early Years: Julia Ward and Samuel Gridley Howe
- Abolition and the Civil War
- Writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic
- Mother's Day and Peace
- Woman Suffrage
- Later Life
- Reflections on Women's History
Julia Ward Howe Writings
- Julia Ward Howe Quotes
- Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe - first published version
- Battle Hymn of the Republic - manuscript version
- Battle Hymn of the Republic - later versions
- Mother's Day Proclamation, by Julia Ward Howe
- The Other Side of the Woman Question - Julia Ward Howe, 1879
- "What Is Religion?" 1893, Julia Ward Howe
More About Julia Ward Howe
- Julia Ward Howe Picture
- Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day for Peace
- Julia Ward Howe: More Resources
- Harriet Townsend on Julia Ward Howe