May 27, 2010

Birth of Julia Ward Howe

On May 27, 1893, the poet/activist Julia Ward Howe wrote in her journal:

My seventy-fourth birthday. Thank God for my continued life, health, and bodily and mental power. My prayer to Him is that, whether I am to have a year, a month, a week, or a day more, it may be for good to myself and others.

Later that day, she attended a reception for the women of the Press Association. After tea, Howe made a short speech and was given a birthday bouquet of carnations. In the evening, she practiced a sermon she was presenting at a Unitarian church the next day.

On the same day several years later, in 1909, Howe commemorated her own 90th birthday in a note to a friend and admirer.

You wrote me a lovely letter on my ninetieth birthday. I cannot help feeling as if the impression expressed by you and so many other kind friends of my personal merits must refer to some good work which I have yet to do. What I have done looks small to me, but I have tried a good deal for the best I have known. That is all I can say. I am much touched by your letter, and encouraged to go on trying. Don't you think that the best things are already in view? The opportunities for women, the growing toleration and sympathy in religion, the sacred cause of peace? I have lived, like Moses, to see the entrance to the Promised Land. How much is this to be thankful for! My crabbed hand shows how Time abridges my working powers, but I march on to the brave music still, as you and many of the juniors do.

Howe died about a year and a half after this letter at the age of 91. In addition to her many poems (including "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), Howe served with several women's rights organizations, some of which she founded. She frequently lectured, even going to Europe and the Middle East to call for peace in response to the Franco-Prussian War and aiding a peace conference in London.


  1. Hey Rob,

    Thanks for a meaningful entry about a powerful woman. Just want to point out (especially because you are young) that the period of time between age 74 and age 90 is far more than "several" in terms of years. It's amazing that Howell writes so cogently at age 74 and again at age 90: a lot can happen, cognitively, in that sixteen-year span. Despite being a nonagenarian, she has such a grasp on things. And I enjoy her capitalization of the letter "T" in Time; indeed, like Nature, it is a force unto itself.

  2. I didn't mean to imply that "several years" was a short period of time. Then again, it's all relative... Perhaps by age 90, a 16-year period didn't seem like much to Mrs. Howe? ;)

  3. Thanks for saluting JWH. She was a female Pirate (in the Mary Daly sense) way ahead of her time.


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