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Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)

For years Julia Ward Howe had yearned to take a more active part in public affairs. But her husband, the noted Boston reformer Samuel Gridley Howe, had always insisted that she confine herself to running their home. In 1861, however, she unwittingly transformed herself into a minor celebrity with the writing of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Composed during a visit to Washington, this fiercely martial poem, dedicated to the Union cause, was soon set to the music of “John Brown’s Body.” By 1865 it had become the North’s unofficial wartime anthem.

After the Civil War, Howe finally broke the constraints imposed by her husband to become one of the best-loved figures in the growing feminist movement. Whenever she lectured, her audiences generally marked the occasion by singing the “Battle Hymn.”

This portrait was begun in Howe’s last years by her son-in-law, who attempted to portray her as she might have looked years earlier, writing the “Battle Hymn.” Many who met Howe remarked on her striking resemblance to Britain’s Queen Victoria. To some extent, the likeness confirms this.

Begun by John Elliot (1858–1925), finished by William H. Cotton (1880–1958)
Oil on canvas, circa 1910 and circa 1925
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Transfer from the National Museum of American Art; gift of Mrs. John Elliot, 1933


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