Julia Ward was born in New York City in 1819. At the age of 21, she married Samuel Gridley Howe, Unitarian,director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, and an abolitionist. (Samuel was rumored to be one of the Secret Six that funded John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry). They had six children, four of whom survived into adulthood. According to her diary, the marriage was violent. Samuel both resented and mismanaged the financial inheritance her father had left her. She turned to self-education, studying philosophy, and writing poems. Both she and her husband got involved in the United States Sanitary Commission, working to end death from disease in both POW and army camps. Nationally famous for the Battle Hymn of the Republic, after the war she went on the lecture circuit to make up for her squandered inheritance and to spread the word for her new social causes. She had founded with Lucy Stone, the New England's Women's Club, which later became the American Woman Suffrage Association. She would edit and write for their Women's Journal for more than 20 years. In 1889 she helped to merge the AWSA with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony's National Woman Suffrage Association. The distress of the Civil War also led her to fight for world peace. In 1870, she issued a declaration hoping to unite mothers across national boundaries to put an end to violence, and she lent her support to freedom for Russia and Armenia.

In 1907, she was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received three honorary doctorates degrees. The citation for her LL.D. degree from Smith College said of her career:

"Poet and patriot, lover of letters and learning; advocate for over half a century in print and living speech of great causes of human liberty; sincere friend of all that makes for the elevation and enrichment of women."
When she died in 1910, four thousand people attended her memorial service.

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