For years, Julia Ward Howe yearned to take a more active part in public affairs. But her husband, the noted Boston reformer Samuel Gridley Howe, insisted that she restrict herself to running their home. In 1861, she unwittingly became a minor celebrity by writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Composed during a visit to Washington, D.C., this fiercely martial poem, dedicated to the Union cause, was 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 women’s suffrage movement, while raising six children. In 1870, she founded Woman’s Journal, a weekly suffragist magazine. The following year, she organized the Woman’s Peace Congress in London, and she was elected president of the Association of the Advancement of Women in 1881.