Although neglected by historians Julia Ward Howe contributed much more to American civilization than the words of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." She was one of the founders of women's clubs and a prominent member of the women suffrage movement. At the turn of the century, Mrs. Howe was nearly a household name. She was eulogized at her death in 1910 as "the most distinguished woman in America." Mrs. Howe was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a distinction not shared by another woman until 1930.
Several biographies have been written on the life of Mrs. Howe, but no one has analyzed her thought regarding woman. The purpose of this paper was to discover Mrs. Howe's definition of women and to note how her philosophy influenced her lifestyle. Mrs. Howe expressed her beliefs regarding women in such media as speeches, newspaper and magazine articles, books, poems, dramas, and letters. Research of the statements of Mrs. Howe as expressed in these various types of communications reveals that Mrs. Howe defines woman as equal to but different from men, a definition which motivated her to become an active feminist.
Women, according to Mrs. Howe, are equal to men in all areas except one, morality, where women are superior to men. Of course, men and women begin life with the same moral character, but the sacred duties of motherhood build in women an unmatched ethical excellence.
This was not an unique theory with Mrs. Howe; all Victorians glorified mothers as the cornerstones of virtue in society. But Mrs. Howe radically changed the conventional theory of women; she moved mothers from the home into the community. If women are the repositories of virtue, then they have a solemn duty to work in society for the moral uplift of humanity. Furthermore, if women are to serve as the moral guardians of society, they must have freedom to fulfill their obligations wherever their talents lead them. Mrs. Howe worshiped at her shrine of motherhood in the traditional manner, but she demanded that this worship include radical innovations of freedom for women: freedom to act and freedom to choose a sphere of action.
Mrs. Howe's definition of women influenced her work in four different areas. Women must be granted an equal, liberal education if they are adequately to serve mankind as guides to righteousness. Suffrage must be shared by both sexes if society is ever to progress to goodness. Reform movements must include female members if the world is to be brought to the millennium. But women must never forget their duties in the home as they serve as moral guardians of society, thus bringing man to peace in the world and in the home.
The definition of women given by Mrs. Howe is worthy of study because it describes the rationale of an important and neglected figure in the women's movement. Further, it reveals how the traditional views of women were subverted just enough to allow for change but not so much that all innovations of women's new role were rejected. This study also demonstrates hew Mrs. Howe mediated between the liberal and conservative camps of feminism. Mrs. Howe agreed with the liberal pioneers: women were equal with men; therefore, women should share equal rights. But she also believed, as did the conservatives, that women were different from men. Female purity was needed in society; therefore women must be free to act.
Gary M. Ross
Fredrick G. Hoyt
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Feminism; Feminism--21st century; Women; Howe; Julia Ward; 1819-1910.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Gullett, Gayle Ann, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory : A Definition of Woman by Julia Ward Howe" (1973). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1097.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives