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The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  413 ratings  ·  112 reviews
“Unfailingly vivid—and fair-minded” —The Atlantic
“Riveting” —The New York Times Book Review
“A biography with the verve and pace of a delicious novel...a polemic and a pleasure.” —The Boston Globe


The first biography to reveal Julia Ward Howe—the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic—as a feminist pioneer who fought her own battle for creative freedom and independence.
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 8th 2016 by Simon Schuster
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Louise
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
While most remember Julia Ward Howe as the writer of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, she was a noted poet and lecturer before and after this. She broke the glass ceiling in Boston's literary circles despite being undermined by her husband and by the misogyny of the era. As she experienced the inordinate legal and social power a man had over his wife, she became a feminist, advocating a broad agenda including voting rights for women.

At age 24 she married a man who despite a 20 year age difference,
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Laura Lee
Feb 09, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5
I won this book thru GoodReads giveaway. Here is my honest opinion.
Very interesting for me as I had seen this name in history but never knew anything about Howe. I must've known somewhere down the line that she had written The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I did know she was a feminist.
She married a man almost twenty years her senior. He was not very enlightened, even for the mid 1800s. He was, in fact, pretty much a jerk. Howe published a number of works in her lifetime and at different tim
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Nancy
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, favorites
Growing up in the Dark Ages of the 1950s I had to search hard to find female role models. Not that my teachers were not great; I admired them immensely. I longed for women who were heroic and brave--and not fictional. In junior high I read began reading biographies: Jane Addams, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc. And I have been reading biographies of women ever since.


The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe by Elaine Showalter is a biography that, unlike the biographies of my childhood r
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Anne Rioux
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating examination of the life of a 19th-century woman with tremendous talent and energy who managed to overcome her husband's attempts to stifle her. Oh, and she wrote "The Battle-Hymn of the Republic."
Kara Beal
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Julia Ward Howe wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic and was an accomplished writer and lecturer. Unfortunately for her, she chose poorly in her husband and was unhappy in her marriage. Her husband was very controlling and resented Julia's writing and her success.

As I read this shortly after I read Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, I couldn't help but contrast these two women's lives. Both were intelligent and independent-minded. Both women's marriages started out rocky, but Louisa
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Mary Westbrook
Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it
You know... I liked this. A solid like. I'm not much of a biography person, but I heard about this on NPR and then read about it in The NYT Book Review and, well, it hit a bunch of my personal sweet spots. A smart woman, born before her time, desperate to write -- hemmed in by family obligations and social conventions. The drama! In other words, yes, please. I learned a lot about Julia Ward Howe (of course), and while that's a low bar (I knew zilch about her before this book), I mean it as high ...more
Margaret Sankey
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm always disappointed when a choir sings the Battle Hymn of the Republic as a dirge--it is a crackling, angry song, alive with frustration and violence. Knowing more about its author explains a lot--Julia Ward, chafing under Calvinist paternal strictures, married an 1840s celebrity philanthropist, progressive and abolitionist under the impression that he would support her writing and ambitions. Instead, this man who was a pioneer in educating the disabled, champion of freed slaves and hero of ...more
Holly
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads
What stands out most to me a few weeks after reading, and what will likely remain, is Showalter's account of JWH's truly horrible marriage and the series of unwanted pregnancies forced upon her by the shameful Samuel Gridley Howe. Also lasting is, this sounds vague I know, how Julia Ward's irrepressible intellect and social conscience reemerged after her husband's death. I'm ignorant of how or if Showalter's treatment differs from other biographers, but I found this an elegant feminist biograph ...more
James (JD) Dittes
America could have had its own Bronte.

She was here at the same time, born three days before Queen Victoria. She was born with remarkable resources to care for her needs as she pursued a career in literature--her father was a wealthy Wall Street banker. She certainly had the literary connections, living in Boston as she did and rubbing shoulders with Emerson and Longfellow regularly. She had a drive, if not a talent, that would have made her the equal of any writer, male or female.

So why do we kn
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Tom N
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In THE CIVIL WARS OF JULIA WARD HOWE, author Elaine Showalter spins an interesting yet comprehensive biography of one of the pioneers of American history . Known for penning THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, Julia Ward Howe was also a poet, abolitionist, mother, lecturer, suffragist, and feminist. Married to an acclaimed pioneer in the education of the blind, she rubbed elbows with many of the key figures of her era, including Helen Keller, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Brown, and Teddy Roosev ...more
Mary Keen
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-overdrive
Interesting, especially all the famous and important people she came into contact with, including Charles Sumner and briefly, John Brown.

She was such an admirable woman, who put up with a lot from her much older and traditional husband, who became defensive and cruel when she started to outshine him --altho he did a lot of good with blind children and was ahead of the times in being an ardent abolitionist.
I hated how he used and wasted HER money --both her inheritance and her earnings, altho'
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Miles Smith
Showalter's biography declares itself to be a feminist biography from the outset. The author succeeds though in noting that Howe's feminism always made itself present on its own terms, rather than those of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Because of her focus of gender, she seems uninterested in the intellectual dispositions that drove her often erratic and irreconcilable choices and positions.
Fred Stevens
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a comprehensive account of the life of my distant cousin (5th cousin, 5 times removed). Ms. Howe struggled against the constraints endured by most 19th century women. Ultimately, she asserted her independence while maintaining her own unique personality.
Martha
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am in awe. I just knew Howe as the author of the Battle Hymn but she broke loose from a domineering husband and embraced all the worthy causes of her long life - and she did it in fine clothes. She was a dynamo!
Conchetta
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fast moving and full of insight into 19th century America, in particular the lives of privileged women of the era.
Sara Sautter
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What can we say about a woman whose life began in 1819 in a home visited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson. And was tutored by Margaret Fuller.

Who later shared meals with Florence Nightingale, John Brown, George Sand, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Brownings, painter James Whistler, the first female astronomer Maria Mitchell, as well as Lucy Stone, Oscar Wilde, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.

A woman whose first poems were intimate, whose first novel was about a hermaphrodite and w
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Linda
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
At first I didn't like Julia Ward Howe. She was such a snob, always putting down individuals or groups. After her husband died, she blossomed. She took no time at all before she was organizing women's rights groups, anti-lynching organizations, and speaking tours all over America and Europe. She kept right on speaking publically on human rights until she was ninety years old. So why the animosity toward people when she was young? I think if was just frustration. Her husband kept her isolated. He ...more
Sherrie
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway***

This is just an all around excellent book. It is well written, fluid, and interesting. Elaine Showalter clearly did her research and managed to impart a lot of personality into all the facts. Julia Ward Howe is not someone I knew much about, but I totally and completely admire her now. I think every woman can relate, in some small way, to her struggle to be heard and feelings of inadequacy.

I do warn anyone who reads this...her husband was terrible. H
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Cheri
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Showalter is such a lively and opinionated writer that this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I will never again think of Julia Ward Howe as simply the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic; she was a philosopher, poet, playwright, and critic who struggled against the prejudices that all women of her day confronted. Thwarted at every turn by her controlling husband, who never did "approve of any act of mine which I myself valued," she ultimately dedicated her efforts toward feminist cause ...more
Joshua Van Dereck
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Elaine Showalter's biography of Julia Ward Howe is a profound and important contribution to American history. Ward Howe, lost to popular memory except for the one poem she wrote that everyone remembers (The Battle Hymn of the Republic) is generally relegated to the margins even of period histories. She is overshadowed by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Mary Livermore, Cornelia Hancock, Louisa May Alcott, even Mary Chestnut. Upon mention of her name, histories often give a nod to her emine ...more
Hayley
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
"The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe" is an illuminating picture into the life of a prominent American woman. Her experiences and accomplishments are so vast, it seems that her story could span volumes. However, Elaine Showalter does some justice to her story within the pages of this biography. However, it is not as one might expect. This kind of figure in history, known for her activism and writings, usually has a biography that highlights these positive facets of character and person. However, t ...more
David
Jan 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I typically pick up biographies of what was once called "great men" (not so much because of hero worship of their accomplishments but because of the complexity of their character). I thought I would try something a bit different in looking at a biography of a women poet who is best known as the author of the civil war anthem, Battle Hymn of the Republic. The author writes from a feminist perspective while still describing Howe's growth as both a human being and writer within the context of the c ...more
Kathleen Sams
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe" is a compelling biography of the woman who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Her paternalistic husband attempted to control her writing the way he controlled her money. He did not want an intelligent, ambitious wife; he believed that women should submit to their husbands and devote themselves to idealized roles of wife and mother. Julia Ward Howe lived in a time when sex lead to multiple pregnancies for a woman during marriage. These pregnancies - Howe ...more
Rob
Sep 06, 2019 rated it liked it
The biographer's job is not necessarily to make the reader "like" their subject. That fact is important to remember with this book. Julia Ward Howe is difficult to like; she often comes across as a bit of an entitled brat, who frequently admits her frustration as a mother/wife. On the other side of it, her life was full of heartbreaking situations, like her marriage to a man who did not support her living a public life. The marriage is all the more confusing as Samuel Gridley Howe was a relative ...more
Christina
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Julia Ward Howe is the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She had a tempestuous marriage with Samuel Howe, who is famous for his work for the education of the blind. The book is a study in clashing paradigms of marriage – she was looking for a partnership and he for a doting wife and mother. While he encouraged single women (like Florence Nightingale) to use their gifts in public service, he expected his own wife to stay strictly at home. While Howe was often insecure and petty, he was ...more
Don Friedman
Dec 23, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pat
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a biography not to be missed because it opens up the life of someone who had a significant effect on American history, but who is often summed up as the woman who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, as though that is all she did. Through in-depth study of contemporary accounts, previous biographies and above all the enormous archive of Howe documents, including Julia’s copious journals, Showalter provides a three dimensional account of Julia as an individual, a wife and as a person ...more
Denise
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well written biography that caused me much reflection and gratitude to live in the day I do and to have the husband I do. Julia had an unhappy marriage to say the least and though in part it was the result of the time and the culture, even in this day and time the problems she faced still exist in unhappy marriages today. Julia was a woman in the wrong time era but as such she paved the way for the modern woman in many ways. She had a long life and did much to improve the lot of the oppressed ...more
Anne
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Julia Ward Howe was a woman before her time. She believed in women's equality with men. She was an abolitionist, a suffragette, a poet, writer and wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic, originally written as a pro-Union, anti-slavery anthem.

In one of her unpublished essays titled "Polarity", she writes "The polar opposition of masculine and feminine, of and and woman, did not rest upon the superiority of men. If society could come to understand that progress required the equal development and gr
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Rebecca Kiefer
I have a feeling the author really wanted to do an academic paper on Howe’s poetry, but for whatever reason couched in a biography that could have a more mainstream audience. The main addition to this work over other biographies was the dissection of Howe’s unhappy marriage. Overall I found there just wasn’t enough there for a full length book - Battle Hymn came to Howe one night in a dream, which seems more like a fun anecdote than the basis for a whole narrative. I think her children expressed ...more
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Elaine Showalter is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.

She is well known and respected in both academic and popular cultural fields. She has written and edited numerous books and articles focussed on a variety of subje
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