Julia Ward Howe and Victorian Women Hymn Writers

2019 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the poet Julia Ward, later Howe, contemporary of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville (also born in 1819).   During the Civil War, she composed lyrics to the popular tune “John Brown’s Body,” offering the Union its most inspiring theme song.  She published volumes of poetry, travel narratives, and other writings.   She was very active in the struggle for the abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage.  Howe was the first woman elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1908.

Poetry and hymnody were among the few creative outlets considered acceptable for women during her lifetime.   Experiences of illness, bereavement, and suffering often were transformed by them into songs of faith and hope.   Many other women of the Victorian era likewise gave the church hundreds of immortal and meaningful hymns.

The William Smith Morton Library is offering a summer exhibit of items from our collection representing the contribution of Victorian women to the history of music in the church.