Julia Ward Howe (1819 – 1910) was a mother who was passionately involved in woman’s suffrage.  In addition to promoting woman’s emancipation, she was a poet and wrote many famous literary works, some of which are about motherhood.  Howe, along with a woman named Anna Jarvis, was involved in the establishment of Mother’s Day in America.  However, she is best known today for writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  She has helped to bring the recognition of motherhood a long way.  Women and mothers owe a lot to her today. 

            Howe began writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861.  The Atlantic Monthly published it in February of 1862.  Howe was inspired to write the lyrics when she went to Washington at the invitation of President Lincoln.  She and her husband visited a Union Army camp, accompanied by Reverend James Freeman Clarke.  He was familiar with Howe’s poetry, and suggested she write a song about the war.  As a result, Howe came up with the lyrics in the form of a poem.  The poem was later turned into a Civil War song that was used to represent the North.  It had the same melody as the previous war song, “John Brown’s Body.”  The song extolled an end to slavery.  After Howe wrote and published the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” she became widely known and in a way, famous.  Because of this new found status, she was able to become a leader of the American Woman Suffrage Association.  This Association worked to help increase women’s rights for women of all different races. 

            “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a song that most people today recognize.  One of the widely known phrases goes:  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”  Howe obtained a lot of her inspiration from the Old Testament.  There is a line that says: “I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps.”  Howe wrote this line after seeing the soldiers sitting around their campfires out of her train window.  The “Him” refers to God.  There is another line that refers to a serpent being crushed by someone’s heel.  The serpent is a symbol of the South, and God is crushing it with His heel.  In Christian history, the serpent is a symbol of evil.  It’s found in the garden of Eve and it represents the devil.  This is in the third part, which basically describes God destroying the enemies. 

            Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, which was written in 1870, was another one of her famous pieces of work.  The purpose of the proclamation was to bring together mothers as a group to help stop the war, bring back peace, and help rebuild the economy.  Howe saw how the war was affecting many citizens including the children of deceased soldiers as well as young boys fighting in the war.  She felt that if women and mothers joined together, they could help rebuild peace and help make society better.  The Mother’s Day Proclamation defined this goal. 

            Howe was influenced to create a Mother’s Day by a woman named Anna Jarvis.  Jarvis began working in 1858 to create a day when mothers would work together to help better the bad health conditions and sanitation of communities.  She wanted to call it the “Mother’s Work Day.”  The day would be dedicated to all mothers, as well as her own, who had died three years earlier.  The day to celebrate “Mother’s Work Day” would be on the anniversary of her mother’s death, which was May 9th.  Jarvis summed up the purpose of this day in this quote: “…To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth.  To be a home tie for the absent.  To obliterate family estrangement.  To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge.  To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers.  To brighten the lives of good mothers.  To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought…”  Jarvis’ definition of Mother’s Day basically says it is a day to honor mothers and show them how much they are loved.  It’s a day to end disputes and reconcile. 

            When Howe first began working on the Mother’s Day Proclamation she said: “The question forced itself on me, why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of human life, which they alone bear and know the cost?  I had never thought of this before.  The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibility now appeared to me in a new aspect.”  Howe realized that mother’s and women could make a difference if they worked together.  They could help to improve the quality of human life.  Mothers understood what was happening during that time, and they knew of the consequences.  So she wanted them to make the effort to fix the problems of society.

            In one of the paragraphs of the proclamation, Howe refers to the sons that are fighting in the war.  She doesn’t want them there because they will change.  Everything that mothers have done to raise their sons will be wiped away.  All the positive things that mothers have taught their sons, they will unlearn.  She’s basically saying that war and fighting cause negative effects, especially hurting the younger men fighting (the sons of many mothers). 

              Howe wanted all the women and mothers to gather on a specific day to work for peace.  She called this day the “Festival of Peace” or “Mother’s Day.”  The meeting would be held annually on June 2.  She chose this day because the weather would be good for outdoor meetings and activities which were held annually in Boston, Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, Howe was unsuccessful in declaring an established Mother’s Day.  However, on May 8, 1914, about forty-two years after Howe started to organize meetings, all of her work would pay off, because on this day, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May to be celebrated every year as Mother’s Day. 

            President Wilson made a speech on this day extenuating its importance: “Now, Therefore, I Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said Joint Resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”  By the President of the United States saying that the American flag should be shown on Mother’s Day, it makes it much more of a national holiday.  If people see that the president is making it so important, they will take the day more seriously and treat it with more significance. 

            Besides writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” Howe wrote numerous poems in her life, many of which were about mothers.  One of them is called “Mother Mind”.  It’s a poem that is written from the point of view of a mother.  One of the lines go as follows:  “Through weary length of days, I bear a thought within my breast that greatens from my growth of soul, and waits, and will not be expressed.  It greatens, till its hour has come, not without pain, it sees the light.”  In the poem, she is saying that she never used her literary abilities to write a poem.  Men then would ask her to write, so she agreed.  Creating poetry is something that consumes her.  In her poetry is where she keeps the “children of her soul.”  It’s a private place for her where no men can see.  In this one particular line, she is saying that poetry doesn’t just come out instantaneously.  It takes time, and it’s only ready once it has true meaning and value.

            Julia Ward Howe was a mother who was a talented poet and writer.  She composed many famous literary works, as well as some plays.  She was not only a major activist for women’s rights, but also worked for equality for all, regardless of race.  She is one of history’s famous mothers who helped influence our society better.