Skip to Main Content

About The Book

A “lively biography” (The New Yorker) of Julia Ward Howe, the powerful feminist pioneer and author of the Civil War anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Julia Ward (1819–1910) was an heiress who married a handsome accomplished doctor who worked with the blind and deaf. But Samuel Howe wasted her inheritance, mistreated and belittled her, and tried to stifle her intellect and freedom. Nevertheless Julia persisted and wrote poetry and a mildly shocking sexual novel that was published to good reviews. She also wrote the words to probably the most famous anthem in the country’s history—the Civil War anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

After Samuel died when she was fifty-one, Julia lived another forty years as a dynamic, tireless, and successful activist for women’s rights, pacifism, and social reform. She became a groundbreaking figure in the abolitionist and suffrage movements, and a successful author and lecturer who fought her own battle for creative freedom and independence. In the “riveting” (The New York Times Book Review), “unfailingly vivid” (The Atlantic) and “invigorating” (O, The Oprah Magazine) The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe, esteemed author Elaine Showalter tells the story of Howe’s determined self-creation and brings to life the society she inhabited and the obstacles she overcame. The Civil War challenged nineteenth-century ideas of separate spheres for men and women. In Howe’s case, this transformation led to a rebellion against her marriage. She fought a second Civil War at home and discovered ways to combine domestic chores with creativity and politics, and she helped establish Mother’s Day to honor women and to recruit them to her causes. “A biography with the verve and pace of a delicious novel…Showalter reveals the entwining of Howe’s public and private lives, as she righteously battled her husband and society, and finally saw the glory she always believed she deserved” (The Boston Globe).

About The Author

© Morad Boroomand

Elaine Showalter, Emeritus Professor of English at Princeton University, combines scholarly expertise in English and American literature with a passion for a wide range of cultural subjects. She has written ten books, most recently The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography and A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, which was awarded the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism. Her writing has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, People, and Vogue.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 8, 2016)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451645927

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“[A] finely rendered biography.”

* * *

“The book gleams with calm humor, but it is a serious work: a study of Howe’s evolution into a leader in the struggle for women’s rights, viewed through the lens of her marriage to the abolitionist and educator Samuel Gridley Howe, an admirable man in many ways but a vain, jealous, destructive and domineering husband.”

– The Wall Street Journal

“Fascinating are the personal tribulations that the feminist critic Elaine Showalter probes in her unfailingly vivid—and fair-minded—biography.”

– The Atlantic

“[An] invigorating feminist biography.”

– O: The Oprah Magazine

“An energetic new look at the author of the lyrics for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” finds a modern feminist thread in the heroine’s frustrated marriage. . . . A rich life well deserving of reconsideration. Showalter provides a solid launching point.”

– Kirkus Reviews

"This lively biography of the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic focuses on what her marriage expresses about the position of women in the nineteenth century."

– The New Yorker

“A robust and enlightening feminist portrait of a national icon.”

– Booklist, starred review

“Showalter proves there is much more to be known about Howe's achievements, political activism, and feminist commitment. . . . Showalter presents a new, multifaceted interpretation of Howe, the first woman to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In this highly readable and absorbing narrative, the author argues that Howe's “turbulent and unstable” marriage may be viewed as a clash of 19th-century male and female ambitions. . . . Showalter's appealing analysis of Howe's writings, and her arguments about the tasks of literary historians create a biography that is highly recommended to literary scholars; history students; and general readers interested in women's biography, literature, and history.”

– Library Journal

“Showalter has bravely taken on the task of examining the inner workings of a marriage that ended nearly a century and a half ago. That she succeeds as well as she does is a tribute not only to her scholarly diligence, but also to her proven historical curiosity and her fluent prose. . . . a model of fairness.”

– The New York Review of Books

“Showalter skillfully reveals the depths of Howe’s pain and talent…Howe’s resilience and success in light of her family’s efforts to thwart her ambition make her worthy of Showalter’s admiring biography.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Elaine Showalter is that rarity: a scholar, feminist historian, sharp-eyed cultural critic, with a knack for choosing subjects that are both entertaining and brilliantly illuminating. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe is written with Showalter's usual witty, sparkling, and erudite style. This zestfully narrated life of an early, pioneering feminist, a tireless crusader for social reform and women's rights, would make an ideal PBS series—indeed, all the parts are in place for a felicitous adaptation of Showalter's gem of a biography of a truly remarkable American woman.”

– Joyce Carol Oates

“Famous as the author of Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe had a memorable career beyond this single momentous achievement, as a poet, abolitionist, mother, lecturer, and feminist. Interweaving her public life with Julia's troubled marriage to the domineering Samuel Gridley Howe, this splendid biography shows how Julia emerged from her private tribulations as a stronger and more complete person.”

– James McPherson, author of The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters

“In this gracefully presented biography of the woman we remember as the author of the nation’s signature hymn, we find ourselves fighting along with Julia Ward Howe as she wages her long struggle for independence as a 19th Century daughter, wife and mother. Only occasionally did she call retreat as she used the reach of the Battle Hymn and the responsibilities assigned to women during the Civil War to wage her own fight for freedom for herself and the women of America.”

– Cokie Roberts, author of Capital Dames, The Civil War and the Women of Washington

“Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! At last a full, fine, modern biography of the independent woman whose words reanimated the American Civil War and crowned Lincoln, its greatest hero, with a worthy anthem.”

– Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press, winner of the Lincoln Prize

An accomplished literary critic, Elaine Showalter draws on journals and letters to give us a true story worthy of fiction. This finely rendered portrait of the oppressive marriage and inner turmoil that fueled Julia Ward Howe's writing and her later activism on behalf of women's suffrage compels a feminist reinterpretation of the iconic Battle Hymn of the Republic. "Mine eyes have seen the glory . . ." takes on entirely new meaning.

– Ellen Chesler, author of "Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America"

“Showalter brings Julia Ward Howe alive as a fascinating and powerful woman rather than a legend on a postage stamp—a feminist pioneer who was as witty, engaging, and intrepid as she was scholarly, literary, and enlightened.”

– Wendy Martin, Professor of American Literature and American Studies, Claremont Graduate University

“Elaine Showalter has brilliantly narrated the life of Julia Ward Howe, with her unhappy marriage to the famed Samuel Gridley Howe, her dislike of motherhood, and the unpublished novel she wrote about a transgender man. This historical biography is timely, as it shows us the underside of a famed Victorian marriage and how patriarchal attitudes could trap even a powerful woman. The story of how she released herself form the emotional captivity of that marriage through becoming a leader in the woman’s movement is inspiring in our own day of considerable backlash against woman’s rights. The book is beautifully written—and a delight to read.”

– Lois W. Banner, Professor Emeritus, History and Gender Studies

“Elaine Showalter has produced a compelling portrait of an American literary luminary whose extraordinary career deserves just the kind of exacting reappraisal this biography offers. From a marriage marked by private domestic turmoil, Julia Ward Howe moved onto the public stage with the assertion that "A comet dire and strange am I," but by the time she died, at ninety, the poet of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" had become an impassioned feminist, a national celebrity, and—in the words of a 1940s admirer—one of the "Wonder Women of History." Showalter's introduction to the civil wars and triumphs of her life is utterly absorbing.”

– Sandra M. Gilbert, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of California, Davis

“Fascinating, readable and beautifully done, Elaine Showalter offers us a deeply studied portrait of a nineteenth-century woman poet, Julia Ward Howe, who found herself imprisoned, her gifts stifled, in her marriage to an autocrat resistant to a wife’s right to publish her work. This biography, at once profoundly feminist and balanced, and rounded out with the full range of Howe’s achievements as a mother, visionary suffragist and reformer, fulfills Virginia Woolf’s ideal: to select for the facts that ‘suggest and engender.’”

– Lyndall Gordon, author of Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Elaine Showalter