Ward's most famous book, however, remains The Gates Ajar (published well before her marriage to the significantly-younger writer Herbert Dickinson Ward). That book took her two years to write; she then spent two more years revising it "so many times that I could have said it by heart," she claimed. It was ultimately published in 1868 by Ticknor & Fields.
The Gates Ajar describes a conceptual afterlife where people retain their physical shapes and personalities, basically an idealized or perfected version of the living world. The book's popularity came, in part, from such a positive view on death shortly after the Civil War. She received thousands of letters in response and the book had two sequels: Beyond the Gates (1883) and The Gates Between (1887). Told in the voice of the fictional Mary Cabot, whose brother died in the Civil War, the journal-styled book The Gates Ajar comes to an eventual acceptance of death. From the chapter marked "January":
Morning and noon and evening come and go; the snow drifts down and the rain falls softly; clouds form and break and hurry past the windows; shadows melt and lights are shattered, and little rainbows are prisoned by the icicles that hang from the eaves.
I sit and watch them, and watch the sick-lamp flicker in the night, and watch the blue morning crawl over the hills; and the old words are stealing down my thought: That is the substance, this the shadow; that the reality, this the dream.
*For much of this information, I am indebted to Nina Baym's introduction to a modern collection of Phelps Ward's series, Three Spiritualist Novels (2000).