In This Review

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography
The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography
By Elaine Showalter
Simon & Schuster, 2016, 320 pp

Julia Ward Howe was born in 1819. Her father, Samuel Ward III, was one of New York City’s most successful bankers, and young Julia was educated by some of the country’s leading scholars. A beauty and an heiress, she fell in love with and married Samuel Howe, a charismatic American hero of the Greek War of Independence, progressive political activist, and internationally famous pioneer in the education of the blind. Her books of poetry were met with wide acclaim, and her husband stood by her even as she scandalized the American artistic community in Rome with her unconventional lifestyle and published thinly veiled poetic accounts of their marital troubles. Her poem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” became one of the great anthems of the American Civil War and made her a national celebrity as she traveled the country advocating women’s suffrage and other causes. Showalter casts Howe’s story as a feminist struggle against patriarchal oppression. This seems a bit overdone: Howe had her frustrations, but few people of any gender have had as much scope for their talents or received as much applause for their accomplishments as this authentically gifted, but also quite privileged, American artist.