Poet, author, lecturer, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, co-founder of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), and one of the initiators of US Mother’s Day.
Born in NYC, the 4th of 7 children. Her father was a prominent banker, and her mother was a poet who died when Howe was 5 years old.
Howe attended school until the age of 16, and afterward, she educated herself, reading books her brother brought from Europe, attending lectures, and learning foreign languages.
Thanks to her father’s social status, she was acquainted with noted writers, such as Charles Dickens and Margaret Fuller. Her love of poetry began at a young age, and by the age of 20, she has already published essays anonymously in literary magazines.
At age 24, she married the physician and the founder of the Perkins School for the Blind (which accommodated Hellen Keller), Samuel Gridley Howe, who was 18 years older than her.
Their marriage had many difficulties, as Howe’s husband did not support her writing and socializing and wanted her to be a homemaker, although he relied on her editing and writing for his newspaper.
Hints of their troubled marriage can be found in the plays and poems she wrote. They got separated after 9 years of marriage.
Howe’s first poetry collection “Passion-Flowers” was published anonymously when she was 34 years old, and 4 years later, she published her second collection, “Words for the Hour”, also not signed with her name. In 1861, Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, a poem that became the hymn of the Union during the Civil War. She received only 4 dollars for publishing the poem.
After the war, Howe dedicated her life to activism and promoting women’s rights. She co-founded and led many women’s organizations, including the New England and Massachusetts Suffrage Association, the American Woman Suffrage Association, the Association of American Women, the Association for the Advancement of Women, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Howe also helped establish the Woman’s Journal of the AWSA, which she edited for 20 years.
In 1872 she wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” – an essay calling all women to join for world peace. Later she advocated for establishing a national Mother’s Day.
Howe never stopped writing, and throughout her life, she published poems, essays, lecture collections, children’s fictions, travel books, biographies, and even music.
“Any religion which sacrifices women to the brutality of men is no religion”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- Howe and her husband had 6 children. 3 out of her 4 daughters were also known writers.
- She was inspired to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after meeting Abraham Lincoln at the White House.
- In 1908, she became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- Her Boston home is a stop on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
- Several elementary schools in the US are named after her.